Gaeltacht department sought relegation of Irish in 1916 event

Government documents show preparations were under considerable time pressure

 A  note from the office of Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys requested the Irish language be relegated to nearer the bottom of the list of principal themes  of the commemorations.  Photograph: Cyril Byrne

A note from the office of Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys requested the Irish language be relegated to nearer the bottom of the list of principal themes of the commemorations. Photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Preparations for the much-criticised official launch of the 1916 commemoration programme in November were rushed, and were undertaken under considerable time pressure, internal correspondence in the Department of Arts has disclosed.

The website for the 100th anniversary commemoration programme for Easter 2016, Ireland. ie, was only secured a week before the launch on November 12th, according to documents released to The Irish Times under the Freedom of Information Act.

In addition, a note from the office of Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys the weekend before the launch requested the Irish language be relegated to nearer the bottom of the list of principal themes and issues of the commemorations.

The Government had earlier been accused of downgrading the status of Irish with the appointment of two non-Irish speaking Ministers to the Department which has responsibility for Irish language and Gaeltacht affairs.

The Government faced criticism in the wake of the launch last November stemming from two controversies that overshadowed the event. The launch was held in the GPO on O’Connell Street, which was attended by Taoiseach Enda Kenny and Tánaiste Joan Burton.

The official video for the launch ‘Ireland Inspires’ was widely criticised for making no reference to the Rising other than a fleeting image of the proclamation at the beginning. Professor Diarmuid Ferriter, a member of the Government’s advisory committee on centenary commemorations described it at the time as “embarrassing unhistoric sh**”.

The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht also admitted that the Irish version of the programme on the 1916 website, Ireland.ie, came from Google Translate. The translation described as “gibberish” was quickly removed and replaced by the correct version.

The GPO launch that night was also partly marred by a small group of anti-water demonstrators who shouted foul-mouthed abuse at the Taoiseach and the other dignitaries present.

The documents disclose Fáilte Ireland executive John Concannon was seconded to the Department of Arts to become project director of Ireland 2016 in mid October last year. Mr Concannon, who played a key role in The Gathering in 2013, pointed out in an email that as the programme was being launched on November 12th, it was important to commence work as soon as possible.

In early November, Mr Concannon said the project was under pressure to announce a “plan” on launch night so the more details the better. He asked for a short summary of each capital project and also said the website ‘ireland.ie’ had been secured from Fáilte Ireland.

“We need to have a web presence for the 12th and need to get the address sorted today,” he wrote.

In an email to a counterpart in Fáilte Ireland just a week before the launch, a technology expert from the Department of Arts referred to the “very tight timescale” involved in setting up the website. He also said the Department did not have a “load-balancing system” capable of handling a website with high volume traffic.

In a flurry of correspondence between the Departments of An Taoiseach and the Arts that week, there were further refinements of the programme that would be announced. The main military parades were moved from Easter Monday to Easter Sunday 2016, and a national televised broadcast by the Taoiseach was also added for the night of Easter Sunday.

A senior official emailed a colleague on November 6 asking that any further suggestions should be sent by 2.15pm that day. “Sorry for short timeframe but I have a million people roaring and shouting at me”.

Later that day a final revised document of the main themes was circulated. It had eight headings, including Remembering the Past, Relatives, Commemorative Stamps, Culture Programmes, Irish Language, Our Young People, Community and Diaspora. A further heading, Reconciliation, was added the following day.

In a note responding to the draft plan, the media adviser to Ms Humphreys wrote: “In the second document I think the stamps should come further down (perhaps last). I would also be inclined to put the Irish language further down the list.”

In the event, Irish was relegated by only one position and featured prominently in the launch material. In her note to the Cabinet meeting on the eve of the launch, Ms Humphreys said: “For the leaders of 1916, the Irish language was an integral component of the Irish Republic and it will be an important part of the programme of events.”.

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