Lack of Irish-speaking Minister ‘disastrous’

No Cabinet member available to take Irish questions on day set aside for language

It was “disastrous” and an “insult” that no senior Minister was available to take leaders’ questions through Irish on the one day in the year the Government assigned business to be conducted in Irish, the Dáil was told.

Minister for Jobs Richard Bruton, who took leaders' questions yesterday, told the Opposition: "I would not feel competent to answer questions as Gaeilge with the sort of exactitude that would be necessary in this House".

But he said there was a far greater amount of Irish now spoken in the House than at any time in his 32 years in the Dáil.

He was responding to Sinn Féin’s Aengus Ó Snodaigh, who sharply criticised the Government’s failure to provide an Irish-speaking Cabinet Minister for Dáil business yesterday.


Mr Ó Snodaigh said it was not a personal criticism of Mr Bruton but since the Government had set aside the day for Irish it was “disastrous, and it’s the wrong story for the world, and it’s an insult for those of us who are making an effort to have at least one day in the year to advance Irish in this chamber”.

Earlier, during a debate on the Irish language strategy, Mr Ó Snodaigh also said: “It’s so insulting that the Minister for the Gaeltacht who as a senior Cabinet Minister doesn’t have Irish.”

He said it was not Jimmy Deenihan’s fault that he did not have sufficient spoken Irish but it was “insulting” that the Cabinet Minister appointed with responsibility for the language did not speak it.

Mr Ó Snodaigh said the Government should follow the policy the PSNI used to encourage Catholics to join the police force and should reserve 25 per cent of public sector jobs and not the planned 6 per cent, for employees fluent in Irish.

Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley said they were working to ensure officials in Gaeltacht areas were able to provide services through Irish. He also said that as part of the 20-year language strategy, there was a major focus on young people in the Gaeltacht areas and in providing extra help and support for families bringing their children up through Irish.

Fianna Fáil Gaeltacht spokesman Micheal Kitt said he was happy new Irish language commissioner Rónan Ó Domhnaill was hopeful about the future of the language, but "he is facing the same challenges" as his predecessor and there were widespread difficulties in Gaeltacht areas over the provision of services through Irish.

Socialist Party TD Joe Higgins compared the extinction of plant and animal life with the threat to Irish.

He said it took thousands of years for a language to develop and a “community’s life and history was interconnected with the language”.

Independent TD Maureen O’Sullivan could not understand why since the foundation of the State every primary school was not a Gaelscoil up to first or second class. “Children are like sponges”, and even if they started with no Irish, within a year or two they could speak Irish, she said.

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran

Marie O'Halloran is Parliamentary Correspondent of The Irish Times