RTÉ’s use of Irish as infrequent as most of its commercial rivals – report

Stations aimed at younger people were best performers among stations surveyed

Two senior academics who conducted in-depth research into the use of Irish on radio stations have found that RTÉ’s service is as infrequent as most of its commercial rivals.

Dr John Walsh of NUI Galway and Dr Rosemary Day of Mary Immaculate College in Limerick reviewed 59 radio stations throughout the State to ascertain the extent and depth of their Irish language coverage.

In a presentation to the Oireachtas Committee on the Gaeltacht and Irish on Tuesday, they said the average broadcasting time for Irish language material across the stations was about 3.5 hours per week per station, often at non-peak hours, and often using material that was either bought-in, recycled, or repeats.

They found that the time allotted to Irish-language coverage on RTÉ Radio 1, Lyric FM and 2FM was low.


The national broadcaster diverted most of its its Irish-language content to Raidió na Gaeltachta, which is primarily aimed at the Gaeltacht regions and not at the State as a whole.

There is an argument that a national broadcaster should be “mainstreaming” its Irish language content, particularly for audiences in Dublin and other non-Gaeltacht communities where Irish is spoken regularly.

The station’s own policy position is to increase the amount of Irish heard on radio, with more Irish language and bilingual programming on Radio 1, 2fm and Lyric Fm.

But the authors found: “Apart from news bulletins in Irish, the remainder of Irish language output on RTÉ Radio One is repackaged from RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta.”

Legalisation ‘weak and unclear’

One criticism made by both academics is that the 2009 legislation was weak and unclear and imposed very loose obligations on broadcasters. Some included only inserts of Irish-language into their programming.

Dr Day said both believed the Section 66 of Broadcasting Act 2009, which included reference to Irish, had failed in its purpose. “It is too weak and unclear,” she told the committee. “There are aspirations rather than obligations and it is clear that there is no priority given to Irish.”

For example, for stations located where there are Gaeltacht areas, the Act states, “(they) shall have particular regard to the continuance and advancement as a spoken language of the Irish language.”

Their research found that, until last year at least, most local radio stations located in those areas had little or no Irish content.

The research revealed that four stations broadcast no Irish at all in their schedules last year. Among them was Today FM which broadcasts across the State. The others were Galway Bay FM, KCLR FM and the community station Ros Fm.

Since the publication of the report, Dr Day and Dr Walsh told the committee that all four stations had been in contact with them in the interim and were addressing the Irish content deficit. Galway Bay FM has now started a half-hour programme in Irish at weekends.

Stations aimed at younger people like iRadio, Spin, and Flirt FM in Galway were the best performers among the stations surveyed.

Another finding of the research was that Irish was considered as a lightweight topic, associated with ‘craic’ or traditional music. There was no current affairs programme in Irish and, besides RTÉ, limited or no use of news bulletins in Irish.

“This would suggest that Irish is not usually seen by stations as a vernacular language but either as a hobby for those who remember some Irish from school or a sop to vague licensing requirements,” the report states.

“Ba bhreá linn raidió náisiúnta do dhaoine óga mar atá ag Baile Atha Cliath le Raidió na Life,” a dúirt Dr Walsh leis an gcoiste.

(“We would like to see a national radio station aimed at younger people similar to Raidió na Life in Dublin,” Dr Walsh told the committee.)

Harry McGee

Harry McGee

Harry McGee is a Political Correspondent with The Irish Times