Study sees decline of Irish in Gaeltacht


A new study which predicts the early demise of Irish as a primary Gaeltacht language is to be brought to Cabinet in the autumn, according to the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.

The study by NUI Galway's Acadamh na hOllscolaiochta Gaeilge and NUI Maynooth's national institute for regional and spatial analysis says that Irish will cease to exist as the language of the "home" and the community in the Gaeltacht within 20 years unless radical measures are taken.

Recommendations, which were published in the Irish language newspaper Foinse at the weekend, include a complete overhaul of the education system in the Gaeltacht to include the establishment of "scoileanna sealbhaithe".

These schools would be attended by students of all ages who don't speak Irish, and an adequate level of fluency would be required before entry into regular Gaeltacht schools.

The study was commissioned by Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs Éamon Ó Cuív in January, 2004, at a cost of just over €500,000. Mr Ó Cuív said that he hoped the study would evaluate the best methods of strengthening Irish as the language of the Gaeltacht, given its decline.

He said that no decision would be taken on redrawing Gaeltacht boundaries before the two-year analysis was completed and "considered fully".

The study was finished in April, but the Government chose not to publish it before the general election. The research from April 2004 shows that 25 per cent of all Gaeltacht students were born or reared outside the Gaeltacht, and some 46 per cent of Gaeltacht students of all ages cannot speak Irish, or have very little.

The study proposes that all Gaeltacht areas draw up seven-year language plans, and suggests new legislation to cover different categories of Gaeltacht. It recommends that State agencies give priority to native speakers in their dealings with Gaeltacht communities under the Official Languages Act.

A spokeswoman for Mr Ó Cuív said that the Minister would not comment on the findings in advance of its publication and discussion at Cabinet level.

However, the findings bore out census figures on the state of the language, the spokeswoman said.