THE NUMBER of daily Irish speakers could be increased from 83,000 to 250,000 if there was a unified approach, Taoiseach Brian Cowen said at Government Buildings yesterday.
Announcing the Government’s 20-year strategy for the Irish language, Mr Cowen said it was a historic occasion and one that “lifts my heart”.
“I believe this strategy is a historic one and that this is a historic day for the Irish language. For the first time since the State was founded there is a comprehensive, long-term plan for Irish,” the Taoiseach said, speaking in Irish.
“Under this plan, it is intended to increase the number of people who speak Irish on a daily basis from 83,000 to 250,000 people within 20 years.
“Bringing that about will be an enormous task but I am certain we can succeed. As the old proverb says: “There is no strength without unity .”
He added: “We should never make excuses for defending Irish nor for promoting the language, inside or outside the Gaeltacht.” Mr Cowen said the cross-party support that had been shown for the strategy was very encouraging: “This is a good development because Irish belongs to us all.”
His own family had attended an Irish-speaking school: “It is wonderful how proud of the language they are; they never have any issue about speaking Irish.”
Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs Pat Carey said it was “a cause for celebration” that the strategy would ensure the State, the language organisations and the general public were working together.
Speaking in Irish he said: “Irish is still identified by Unesco as a language of fragile status. If a language is lost, it is virtually impossible to revive it.”
“Irish is like an unbroken chain which reaches back through 2,000 years of our history. A modern, up-to-date plan for Irish is being launched today for this millennium – a plan whose aim is to ensure that the chain is not broken.”
He said that, “although it is a Government plan, it does not belong to the Government, it belongs to you and to us and it is up to us and to you to ensure it is put into practice”.
Speaking in English, he said: “I am pleased to see members of the English-language media here today. The English-language media have an important role to play in increasing awareness of the Irish language.
“While I am not in any way suggesting that the media become cheerleaders for the Irish language, I do feel, however, that certain media do not always treat Irish language issues with the same seriousness that they treat other issues.”
Fine Gael spokesman on the Gaeltacht Frank Feighan said his party supported the 20-year plan “in principle” with the reservation that the party believed the teaching of Irish should be obligatory until Junior Cert level only and not until the Leaving Cert stage as at present.
TWENTY-YEAR STRATEGY: KEY TARGETS
* Increase the number of daily speakers of Irish from 83,000 to 250,000 and the number of daily speakers of Irish in Gaeltacht areas by 25 per cent.
* The strategy proposes to reconfigure Údarás na Gaeltachta as a new Údarás na Gaeilge agus na Gaeltachta. Its headquarters will be based in the Gaeltacht.
* It will retain an enterprise function and it will also have responsibility for Irish language matters throughout the State in the context of the new Strategy.
* Foras na Gaeilge will continue to be supported and will maintain its existing responsibilities for the language on an all-island basis.
* The Cabinet committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht will maintain oversight of progress of the strategy.
* A total of €1.5 million has been set aside by the department from within existing resources to support the strategy, as required, during its first year.
* The first steps have been taken in establishing a strategy unit in Pat Carey’s Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs that will direct the implementation of the strategy and draft the legislation.
* Up to 20 per cent of places in colleges of education to be retained for students educated through Irish in Gaeltacht schools, in gaelscoileanna and for those attaining a high performance threshold in Irish in the Leaving Certificate.
* Under a new Gaeltacht Act, Gaeltacht status will be based on linguistic criteria. Communities that cannot comply with the criteria will be given two years to develop language plans to maintain their status as Gaeltacht communities.
* New areas may also be included in the Gaeltacht if they meet the linguistic criteria under the new Act.