A new study of Irish-language use has found that up to 70 per cent of the community in some Gaeltacht areas is no longer speaking it daily. Lorna Siggins reports from Galway.
The study, by a Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT) lecturer, Mr Donncha Ó hÉallaithe, for Nuacht TG4, is based on a detailed analysis of the 2002 census.
It found that the current Gaeltacht area of 90,000 people in total would shrink to 27,000 if criteria for such status proposed two years ago by Coimisiún na Gaeltachta were applied.
The criteria recommend that Gaeltacht status be applied to areas in which at least 50 per cent of the population of the district electoral division (DED) used Irish daily. Mr Ó hÉallaithe applied these criteria to the 168 DEDs which currently comprise the Gaeltacht regions.
The study shows that under the criteria, the largest two Gaeltacht areas would be in south Connemara, with a population of 11,000, and north-west Donegal, with a population of 8,500.
The Mayo Gaeltacht would be reduced from a population of 11,000 to two pockets, one in the north-west tip and the other in the south of the county, which between them would have a total population of 634 people.
Areas which would lose Gaeltacht status altogether include Glencolumbcille, Co Donegal, where Údarás na Gaeltachta is based; Na Forbacha or Furbo in Co Galway where the headquarters of Údarás na Gaeltachta, and also of the Department of the Gaeltacht, are located; and the Iveragh peninsula in south-west Kerry.
The 12,000 people living in the Galway city Gaeltacht would also lose status, as well as the large Gaeltacht area east of the Corrib river. Mr Ó hÉallaithe points to a further 8,000 people living in areas where the percentage of daily Irish-users is between 40 per cent and 50 per cent. Under the Coimisiún na Gaeltachta proposals, these areas would be given a further seven years to "reach the necessary percentage".
Ironically, one of these areas is Corr na Móna, home of the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Mr Ó Cuív.
A comprehensive study of language use in Gaeltacht areas has been commissioned by Mr Ó Cuív. He has also established an advisory committee on the language.
However, Mr Ó hÉallaithe says that while State efforts are concentrated on trying to "achieve the impossible", language use will continue to wane. A more modest aim of language maintenance in areas where it is still in use would be far more effective, he believes.
In a separate development, Mr Ó Cuív has published a draft of the Placenames Order (Gaeltacht Districts), 2004, which identifies 2,119 placenames from each Gaeltacht.
He has allowed a two-month consultation period on the list, and all submissions received by his Department by August 31st will be forwarded to the Placenames Commission before a final order is made.