New Minister of State says ‘one person will not save language’

Row breaks out in Dáil over appointment of non Irish-speaking Joe McHugh to Gaeltacht job

New junior minister Joe McHugh, who was appointed to the Gaeltacht post even though he does not speak Irish. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

New junior minister Joe McHugh, who was appointed to the Gaeltacht post even though he does not speak Irish. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times


One person is not going to save the Irish language, Minister of State Joe Mc Hugh said in his defence after a blistering attack on the Government’s attitude to the language and the appointment of a non-fluent Irish speaker to the Gaeltacht Affairs portfolio.

Sinn Féin spokesman Peadar Tóibín said that while he would like to congratulate Mr McHugh and Cabinet Minister Heather Humphreys on their appointments, he could not because in his opinion it was unbelievable that the two Ministers did not have Irish when they had responsibility for the language.

He said the working language of the Department of the Gaeltacht would now become English because instead of the rows about translating documents into Irish they would now have to translate Irish documents into English so the Ministers would understand them.

He said there were 800 children in the Gaeltacht who were native Irish speakers and the Gaeltacht community was horrified at the Government’s lack.

Mr McHugh said: “I’m prepared to put in the work, like any job. I’ve already stated that I have to do a refresher course and I think this is about ensuring that the job is done correctly and I’m certainly going to do the best of my ability.”

He said one person was not going to save the language but the Ministers had a commitment to the language and to make it more widespread.

The Sinn Féin TD had asked in Irish what the Government was going to do to help Irish speaking communities to pass the language on to the next generation.

Mr Tóibín said he had no doubt about Mr McHugh’s commitment to learn the language at this stage but the ministry for the Gaeltacht was not an Irish language course. There are 800 children in this State with native Irish in schools in the Gaeltacht.

He said seven years ago the Irish language study stated that there was 20 years left with regard to Irish as a community language.

“There are 13 years left and the point of this is that now when people give out about English language documents having to be translated into Irish we’re going to have to have Irish language documents to be translated into English so the Ministers can understand them.”

“And the working language of the Department now becomes English because at the top of the Department the Ministers themselves can’t understand it.”

“You are saying to the children ‘learn Irish, speak Irish yourselves, speak Irish amongst yourselves but don’t speak Irish to us ‘cos we don’t have it.”

Mr McHugh said the question was about bringing the language into the home and getting parents speaking Irish.

The Minister said there was a challenge in thinking the language.

“I’m asking people to follow me in my journey, where we can reach out to people who got Cs and Bs and As in their Leaving Cert and don’t speak it but want to speak it and have a love and a grá for the Irish.”

Fianna Fáil arts spokesman Sean Ó Fearghaíl pointed to the protest by 10,000 people in Dublin in February to protest about the status of the language and what they see as this Government’s lack of commitment.

“I would take it that we have two new brooms in the Department. I don’t question your commitment but you’ll be judged at the end of the day by what you do.

“Can we see some renewed vigour on the part of yourself and the Minister of State in relation to the Plean Fiche Bliana.”

Ms Humphreys said they were committed to that. She said “I like many others learned school Irish but unfortunately if you don’t use it you lose it”.

The Minister said her parliamentary secretary got student of the year for his Irish but he was one of many who did not use it.

“We’re committed to the Irish language, absolutely. There is a huge cohort of the people there like myself. We need to book those people in and re-introduce the Irish language, that they can use it more regularly. And the big thing is the confidence because a lot of us know it but we don’t have the confidence to stand up and speak it.

“I just want to reassure you that I’m totally committed to the protection and the proper advancement of the Irish language and that it will be used much more in normal, everyday living.”