Official Languages Act falling into disuse in the Republic?

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Just getting a language act into legislation does not necessarily help a struggling language like Irish to survive… The Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has noted that even though the legislation exists in the Republic its effectiveness or otherwise is being ignored by a large number of government bodies in the Republic where such an act does actually exist. Lorna Siggins writes:

Even the Government department responsible for the language – the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – has no updated formal scheme for implementing key elements of the Official Languages Act.

The offices of the President and the Ombudsman are among those public bodies whose language schemes expired more than three years ago, and two-thirds of all public bodies have no scheme, Mr Ó Cuirreáin confirmed in his annual report as An Coimisinéir Teanga, published yesterday in Galway.

And this carelessness extends even into the heart of what’s historically been designated as the Gaeltacht area:

The inquiry was initiated in February 2011 after a native Irish speaker complained he was unable to conduct his business through Irish with gardaí in Gweedore. The inquiry was set aside temporarily when Garda authorities increased to three the number of Irish speakers assigned to the station. However, when no further progress was reported, the inquiry resumed and a formal finding of non-compliance was made by An Coimisinéir Teanga in December 2011.

That’s three up from just one in station staff of nine in the largest and most populous part of the central Gaeltacht in Donegal. The hard core truth though is that it has not been difficult to get by in Gaoth Dobhair for many years now since, unlike the Connamara Gaeltacht, the chosen lingua franca in the public domain has been English now for a couple of generations now.

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  • cynic2

    Its like changing road signs and street names into Gaelic so non-Irish speakers (and Tourists) cannot read them. Face it. English is the lingua franca of the world in general and business in particular.

    By all means ‘protect’ the language but for all practical purposes it isn’t in daily use – just as a lot of 15th Century English would be unintelligible today

  • Mick Fealty

    It’s not quite that though. The point of these measures are to make sure that the organs of the state can provide high levels of service in the official language of the state…

  • Old Mortality

    ‘The hard core truth though is that it has not been difficult to get by in Gaoth Dobhair for many years now since, unlike the Connamara Gaeltacht, the chosen lingua franca in the public domain has been English now for a couple of generations now.’

    It is regrettable that the language is in retreat in areas where there are a large number of native speakers. However, it begs the question of why money should be spent attempting to revive Irish in places where no native speakers exist.

  • Alias

    “Face it. English is the lingua franca of the world in general and business in particular.”

    Yup, it is the dominant Germanic language, so, once again, where would the English be without the Germans? However, the issue is national languages, not second languages. German used to be the lingua franca of science and French the lingua franca of politics. The dominance of English is very recent and very transient. For the same reasons that those languages became dominant, the future is Chinese.

    It may not be coincidental that the official use of Irish has declined since sovereignty over it was transferred to a supranational authority established in a treaty between the UK and Ireland and it is now jointly held with the United Kingdom, with the Irish state no longer retaining sovereignty over its own national language.

    A state that gives away ownership of its national langauge is not likely to be a state that is determined to protect and promote it, despite tokenistic acts designed to comply with EU law,

  • cynic2

    “It is regrettable that the language is in retreat in areas where there are a large number of native speakers”

    If there are no many native speakers why is it in retreat? Thats the hard question that noone wants to address

    “the future is Chinese”

    Just as in the 80’s it was Japanese? So in the future will it be Chinese or Hindi or Portuguese? Who knows. My bet is on English because that is the second language that in all these countries the educated and elites aspire to. Thats not a political pint – it’s a practical one

  • ayeYerMa

    Alias, the future cannot be Chinese for several reasons:
    1. Geographical distribution – Chinese may have large numbers of speakers, but they are geographically concentrated in East Asia.
    2. English is understood by vastly more people as a second language to undo its status as a Lingua-franca.
    3. Most non-native English speakers I have spoken to talk about how English is a relatively easy lanugage to learn.
    4. Chinese writing is non-phonetic and extremely difficult to learn new characters (I have had experiences in East Asia where even locals could not read the menu in a restaurant due to unfamiliar Chinese characters!). Today Chinese children are even taught Chinese using the phonetics English/Roman/Latin alphabet.
    5. Pronunciation of Chinese is difficult and tonal, where the incorrect stress or tone on many words completely and utterly changes their meaning.

  • http://fitzjameshorselooksattheworld.wordpress.com/ fitzjameshorse1745

    Unfortunately the First National Language has always been the First National Hypocrisy.
    Hypocrisy has actually done more damage than the politics of the language.
    I was reminded about this two years ago when I passed thru Ballaghdereen on my way to Frenchpark and as the signpost was ambiguous, I asked directions from two locals, one was from Ukraine and the other also from Eastern Europe.
    It is hardly the issue in the 21st century for these people as it was for Douglas Hyde on the same streets when he encountered a young market trader.

    Bi-lingual or indeed multi-lingual signs for the benefit of tourists and new citizens is surely a necessity in the Gaeltacht.on the issue of road safety alone. And yet the other side of the coin is that migrants from Eastern Europe, West Africa and South Dublin “good life” seekers change the demographics of comparatively small places………..change school, church and social priorities and effectively “change the rules” whereby an area is demonstrably Gaelic speaking.

    Of course there is no point in hoping for a genuine debate among Gaelic speakers in Gaelic organisations. They are “too” committed.
    For what its worth Gaeltachts need to stop being “geographic locations” in Donegal, West Mayo/Galway, South West Kerry and parts of Meath, Waterford and Cork……and funds need to be diverted into Dublin, Offaly or wherever there is a project which needs support.
    The key to language survival is cutting the link to geography.

  • ayeYerMa

    6. The digital age makes electronic use of Chinese characters less straightforward. Inputting Chinese characters on a computer is done either in a way akin to using predictive text on an old mobile phone, or by typing English phonetics. There are new methods which utilise the touch-screens of mobile phones to recognise strokes, but I remain sceptical.

  • cynic2

    “The point of these measures are to make sure that the organs of the state can provide high levels of service in the official language of the state…”

    What for when so few speak this as a native language?

  • Nordie Northsider

    Sadly, all debates on this issue get side-tracked into revival vs anti-revival punch-ups. In fact, an Official Languages Act is not an idea up for debate or potentially the object of legislation – it is actual Government policy. The real issue here is whether or not the State is implementing its own law. From the evidence presented by the Commissioner, you’d have to say that it isn’t.

    Complaints to the Commissioner have risen greatly. State bodies simply flout their duty to come up with language schemes or to improve existing ones. The only intervention by the Minister has been to suggest merging the Language Commissioner’s office with that of the Ombudsman.

    Colmán Ó hUallacháin, a linguist and educationalist, once memorably summed up the attitude of the Irish state towards language planning for Irish as ‘bású le faillí’ (which he translated rather freely as ‘negation through delay’.) I think he would hold the same view now, only things seem to have speeded up a bit. Údarás na Gaeltachta is much diminished, only recently appointing a CEO. Contradictory proposals on its future fly back and forth – merging it with Foras na Gaeilge, merging it with Enterprise Ireland.

    No one is sure if the Gaeleagras body, set up to promote Irish in the civil service, has been abolished or not. Education policy is a joke. An example: native speakers of Irish follow the same syllabus as learners: right down to being taught how to say hello to each other. I was told recently by a lecturer in bilingual education that he uses the Irish experience as an example of bad practice.

    Over all this presides Minister Dinny McGinley. I’m aware of policy over ad hominem arguments of this site but it’s legitimate to worry about a Minister who only seems to have been given the job as a kind of honourary post for long service and keeping a Fine Gael seat in Donegal. A good man for opening a Feis, but has he got ideas about how to sort out the mess that is Foras na Gaeilge, for example? I don’t think that anyone would claim that he has.

    I believe that this abject failure to implement Government policy should be a cause of concern to all, even to those who are hostile to Irish. If we’re going to do it, we might as well do it right, as opposed to the listless, ineffectual drift of successive Irish governments. Otherwise, it really is an obscene waste of money.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    There’s alot to be said for what Nordie said above – except I wouldn’t necessarily agree with him about Dinny McGinley. The problem isn’t the Minister – it’s the department which has a bureaucratic attitude to every problem and therefore we have the Official Languages Act which was top heavy on bureaucracy and destined to fail. It’s only function and success was to circumvent constitutional challenges by Gaeilgeoirí to the failure of the State to live up to Art. 8 of the 1937 Constitution.
    The language commissioner admitted to me in an interview back in 2005/6 when I worked with Lá that it would take 20-30 years to get all the various Public bodies – 650 in all – to agree to schemes as ordained by the Act. In the meantime schemes already agreed would expire after 3 years so therefore it set up an impossible situation. The schemes themselves could not be monitored for implementation etc. The whole thing is a train wreck but that’s what was designed.
    At the same time as Irish activists are exercised over whether or not the Language Commissioner is a fully independent office or is incorporated into the Office of the Ombudsman (which is also independent), the Department of Education is cutting back disproportionately on teachers in schools in Gaeltacht areas. That’s not to say that the curriculum they’re teaching isn’t hopelessly flawed – because it is – or that there’s very little effort made to highlight to Gaeltacht children and other Irish speaking children the benefits and usefulness of Irish in a life after school.
    As for Foras na Gaeilge, that’s the living embodiment of how a United Ireland with SF involvment might work, behind a veil of secrecy, top heavy with bureaucracy, without transparency or accountability and politically motivated.

  • Drumlins Rock

    For centuries the Official Language of Europe was Latin, in England it was eventually replaced by French. In India the official Language is English, as it is in many other countries. What I’m saying is being “official” does not give a language life, and often does it harm, (the French Language purist probably do it more harm than good for example).

    If the Irish government of the past, and both administrations North & South today focused on making the language alive it might have grown, instead of being relegated to a poor third. Surely investing in online content, modern music & TV would be much better value for money?

    I don’t have a big desire to learn Irish, but won’t say I never will, (have a particular interest in placenames but it seems I not allowed an opinion on that unless im fluent) time and over committment to other areas is the biggest barrier, but a close second is the “forced down your throat factor” which makes me resent its use rather than give me any desire to learn it.

  • http://igaeilge.wordpress.com Concubhar

    I feel the same way as yourself, DR, regarding promoting Irish through investing in online content, modern music, tv etc. €670,000 per year (budget of Language Commissioner) would be a good start with more effect.

  • Alias

    AyeYerMa, commerce will overcome those difficulties. The Chinese learned an international language to facilitate their export trade. They wouldn’t learn it if it was just to facilitate imports. Those countries that want to export to China will have to learn Chinese languages – and the other Asian languages (that make up two thirds of the global population). English became dominant because the UK was a global economic power back then but is now just another modest region of the EU, with China set to become the world’s largest economy within 10 years.

    Unfortunately, that connection between language and money doesn’t bode well for Irish. I was listening to James Connolly’s great grandson on RTE news last night and he said something interesting when contrasting the 11916 generation with today’s generation “They sacrificed their lives for their country, whereas this lot sacrificed their country for their lifestyles.” Alas, the Irish are de facto post-nationalists and consider only financial self-interest now, so they would put a financial value on language and see that the cost outweighs the benefit.

    I think there is also a hidden political agenda at work with the state systematically removing all hallmarks that are not acceptable to the British state and reunification with it.

  • dwatch

    Interesting thread Mick.

    DR, like yourself I don’t wish to learn Irish but I don’t particular agree with it being used as a political tool like SF do. However this was not the first time the Irish language was used as a political tool. It was used to to discriminate against Protestants in the new 1922 free state.

    Two friends of mine (now pensioners) living in NI born in the free state before it became the ROI informed me recently that one of the reasons a number of young Protestants leaving school left the free state after partition was because they were blocked from employment in departments of the new Irish government,(Rialtas na hÉireann) . In Catholic schools Irish was compulsory but in Protestant schools it wasn’t back in the 1920’s. To be accepted for employment in the civil service, garda, fire brigade, prison service, health service, armed forces etc etc a school leaver needed a leaving certificate as proof he/she studied the Irish Language at school. They informed me, there was no need for those applying for jobs to speak Irish fluently, just a certificate to prove they studied the Irish language.

  • Old Mortality

    Fitzjames
    ‘The key to language survival is cutting the link to geography’

    Quite the opposite surely. The linguistic integrity of established Irish speaking areas should have been maintained by preventing those who were not fluent in the language from living in them.
    The ‘projects’ that you consider deserving of support are merely the affectations of a few and will almost certainly never be anything more.

  • cynic2

    “The linguistic integrity of established Irish speaking areas should have been maintained by preventing those who were not fluent in the language from living in them.”

    Great.Lets have a pogrom then. …. or next time try thinking before typing

  • cynic2

    “They sacrificed their lives for their country, whereas this lot sacrificed their country for their lifestyles.”

    What a brilliant quote. I must remember that for use in respect of SF in due course!!

  • Drumlins Rock

    As per the 2011 census of Ireland from their website:

    Of the 1.77 million who indicated they could speak Irish,77,185 said they speak it daily outside the education system. A further 110,642 said they spoke it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One in four said they never spoke Irish. The numbers speaking Irish on a daily basis outside the education system increased by 5,037 persons since 2006 from 72,148 to 77,185; the numbers speaking weekly showed an increase of 7,781 persons, while those speaking Irish less often showed the largest increase of 27,139

    I wonder how reliable the figures are? Saying good morning or a prayer in Irish is hardly sufficient, the actually numbers who use Irish more than any other language probably does not streach in 5 figures even. Considering that despite compulsory education for 80 or more years well over half the population do know actually know how to speak Irish, and two thirds never use it says alot about the waste of educational time and money it is.

  • paul_23

    Stephen Fry on the Irish Language http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H60kpWhyeZc

  • RG Cuan

    It’s great to see so many people taking an interest in Irish Gaelic but i feel many of the comments above are quite off target.

    Firstly, the politicisation of Irish didn’t begin in the 20th century but in 1366 with the Statutes of Killkenny, which aimed to ban the use of the native language among the new colonisers, whom London feared were mixing too much with the locals. From that point onwards, if not before, the language has had a political element as do all minoritised languages in colonised countries.

    The claim is also made above that the Irish language ‘is forced down’ certain people’s throats. Evidence of this is rarely offered unless it equates with somebody speaking the language in the media. Of course the education system may be cited but i’ve never heard people complain about geography or history being forced down their throat. By the way every Irish speaker acknowledges that the curriculum in the south needs an overhaul.

    Regarding figures, the active Gaelic-speaking community on the island is 200,000+. There are always sceptics (there still will be when there are 500,000+ daily Irish speakers) but the figure continues to grow.

    The Coimisinéir Teanga’s report does offer many areas for discussion (& i’ll come back tomorrow) but, with or without state ‘help’, the reality for those within the Irish language speaking population is that the language is a positive force for change & development. It connects us to our past, is central to a brighter future, helps create a more confident Ireland & links us to our fellow multilingual European citizens throughout the continent.

    Ar aghaidh linn. An Ghaeilge abú.

  • cynic2

    “Evidence of this is rarely offered unless it equates with somebody speaking the language in the media”

    Lets try ‘if you cant speak Irish you cant get a State job’

  • cynic2

    “Of the 1.77 million who indicated they could speak Irish,77,185 said they speak it daily outside the education system. A further 110,642 said they spoke it weekly, while 613,236 said they spoke it less often. One in four said they never spoke Irish.”

    That means 1.6% speak Irish daily and another 2% speak it weekly. So 3.6% in total speak Irish once a week – that is what you cll a minority language

  • RG Cuan

    Cynic2; ‘if you cant speak Irish you cant get a State job’.

    I think you’ll find the whole focus of the original post and indeed the Language Commisioner’s report is that you obviously can get state jobs without speaking Irish. Actually the majority of those working for the state in the south cannot speak Irish fluently. And that’s where the problem arises when trying to provide services for Gaelic speakers.

    And in your last post you make the bold claim that Irish is a minority language. Everybody knows that. The Irish language community are well aware of our situation, nationally and globally, and continue to strive forward, mainly without state assistance.

  • Old Mortality

    cynic
    ‘Great.Lets have a pogrom then. …. or next time try thinking before typing’
    Perhaps I should have written ‘ preventing those who were not fluent in the language from SETTLING in them.”

  • dwatch

    “I think you’ll find the whole focus of the original post and indeed the Language Commisioner’s report is that you obviously can get state jobs without speaking Irish. Actually the majority of those working for the state in the south cannot speak Irish fluently.”

    RG Cuan, If you read my earlier post, it was never stated those seeking state employment had to speak Irish fluently. What was imperative in seeking employment was the applicant had to produce a certificate to prove they studied the Irish language on their school leaving certificate.

  • RG Cuan

    I understand that Dwatch, I was replying to Cynic2’s claim that “if you can’t speak Irish you can’t get a state job”. Proof of some level of Irish is needed but it’s clear that it’s only lip service.

    And since you’re interested in Irish being used as a “political tool” you may want to check out the two main examples of politicisation of Gaelic in Ireland, the 1366 Statues of Killkenny and the 1831 National School legislation. Both prohibited the use of the Irish language throughout the island.

  • dwatch

    “Even the Government department responsible for the language – the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – has no updated formal scheme for implementing key elements of the Official Languages Act.”

    I think the Irish government has more important things at the moment to deal with than the Gaeltach. The economy is No 1 and this forthcoming referendum on the European fiscal treaty is no doubt a headache for Kenny & Fine gael.

    Sinn Fein accused over No campaign
    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/local-national/republic-of-ireland/sinn-fein-accused-over-no-campaign-16150285.html

  • cynic2

    “and continue to strive forward, mainly without state assistance”

    …and I support that, North and South and with a (limited) amount of state assistance. What I don’t support is making it mandatory in any context or requiring the state or any other body to make hugely expensive provision for zealots whose primary language is English anyway

  • dwatch

    RG Cuan, Back in 1366 was before the reformation so Protestants cannot be blamed on that one. In fact you will probably find the RC church was in favour of the Statues of Killkenny. The 1831 National school legislation was as much against teaching Irish as it was against teaching Ulster Scots spoken by many Presbyterians The whole concern (right throughout the UK) then was basic education (the 3 R’s) as 90% of the population were totally illiterate. To try and get children to learn to write one language, was enough for teachers than to deal with three languages.

    language has always been used in past history as a political tool by those in power. One has only to look at the struggle between French & English in Canada or take Belgium were they have three languages to deal with. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Languages_of_Belgium

  • JR

    My wife is having alot of trouble at the moment getting a new pasport with her name in Irish. Her name has always been in Irish but this is her first pasport with her married name. The root of the problem is the variation between the spelling of her surname and my surname in Irish. I don’t know how in 2012 the pasport office in Dublin does not understand the Irish naming system.

  • RG Cuan

    Cynic2

    You clearly do not understand language rights as they are recognised throughout Europe. People speaking the indigenous language of any area, be they native speakers or those who have learned it and use it as their primary means of communication, are not ‘zealots’ but members of a language community.

    The Gaelic-speaking population do not ask that all state workers can speak Irish, only that the state can provide services in our own language when needed. This protects the language and encourages it use among all sectors of society. When done effectively the costs involved do not have to be very substantial at all. Speakers of minoritised native languages also pay taxes and are entitled to provision in their own tongue. Most European countries have recognised this decades ago.

    Dwatch

    If you re-read by posts you will find I never once mentioned religion, and never would. Colonisation and the banning of Irish Gaelic has almost nothing to do with religion and Irish speakers are well aware that the RC church played its own part down the years in Anglifying Ireland.

    You are correct that language has always been used as a political tool by those in power. Many would argue that it’s morally wrong to banish a culture or language, as happens during colonisation or plantation. It is therefore morallt right to protect and assist those cultures and languages in re-establishing themselves.

    JR

    I have my name in Irish on my passport and needed to show Oifig na bPasanna proof that I’ve been using the proper version of my name for 5 years or something. That’s crazy though that they don’t understand the different naming conventions for men and women etc.

    Coinnigh ar an eolas muid faoi cad é mar a éiríonn leat.

  • http://nalil.blogspot.com Nevin

    “does not understand the Irish naming system.”

    Unbelievable, JR.

  • Reader

    dwatch: I think the Irish government has more important things at the moment to deal with than the Gaeltach…
    But if “the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht” is to continue to exist it should be doing its job. There’s no point in paying them to twiddle their thumbs.

  • http://ansionnachfionn.com/ An Sionnach Fionn

    Over the last nine decades much of Independent Ireland has been dominated by a culturally anglicised English-speaking elite: the same corrupt and self-serving elite that steered Irish “Nationalist” politics, business and the media under British rule in the 1800s and early 1900s. The parties and the people in government may have changed from time to time but the elite and the inherited anti-Irish attitudes of the elite have remained the same with little more than lip-service paid to any acknowledgement of Ireland’s indigenous language and culture.

    The Irish civil service has retained the influence of the same culture of anglophone supremacism that was there in the days of British colonial rule with the same dismissal or outright rejection of the Irish language and Irish-speakers. In these key areas of independence relatively little has changed since the days of the Irish Revolution. Indeed, Irish independence has proved to be in many ways the independence of English Ireland not Irish Ireland.

    It is clear from the 2011 Report by An Coimisinéir Teanga that for many men, women and children to be a speaker of Irish in contemporary Ireland is to be a second class citizen with second class rights. Gaeilgeoirí are a community that as a whole exists under a regime of active, sustained and ongoing institutionalised discrimination by significant elements of the Irish state, with an acceptable level of bigotry that permeates most public bodies and services.

    The report makes it clear that a large number of Irish civil servants, employees of the state, have deliberately and wilfully broken or ignored the law by refusing to adhere to their legal obligations under the Official Languages Act of 2003, in some cases for years. This is premeditated criminality and apparently done with the sanction of senior public officials within various government departments and institutions.

    This is most apparent in the area of “language schemes” which are regarded as the minimal method for implementing some form of limited equality between the nation’s Irish and English speaking citizens while accessing state services and resources. Yet large sections of the state have conspired to deny those rights by refusing to implement full or adequate schemes.

    It is quite clear that a sizeable number of Irish public officials took the decision a decade ago to obstruct the functioning of the Official Languages Act and to block the work of An Coimisinéir Teanga. And now, it seems, they are to be rewarded by the Fine Gael-Labour coalition, a government dominated by a culture of anglophone intolerance. We’ve been told that the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to be amalgamated with the Ombudsman’s office (in other words, scrapped), the Official Languages Act of 2003 is to be re-examined (code for the legislation to be gutted of any meaning), the role and status of the Irish language in the education system is to be reviewed (which means the reduction and lessening of both), small schools in the Gaeltachtaí and Gaelscoileanna elsewhere in the country are to be forced to close or amalgamate with English medium schools (through changes in class-ratios, etc.), the funding of Irish language organisations is to be reduced and application and grant rules made inherently unfair and unsustainable, the definitions of the Gaeltachtaí are to be changed so they can be gerrymandered out of existence…

    The list goes on and on.

    Some in the British or Scots-Irish ethnic minority in the north-east of the country have repeatedly expressed fears over the last ninety years that in a Reunited Ireland they would be forced to live a monolingual or bilingual Irish and English speaking nation, oppressed by a state with an indigenous Irish cultural and national identity. Ridiculous. The average, culturally British anglophone “Unionist” has more in common with the average, culturally Anglo-American anglophone “Nationalist” than anyone else in these islands.

    It is those of us who identify with Ireland’s native language and culture, whether through birth, or by adoption or self-identification in later life, who are “oppressed”. Now, in the past, and it would seem in the future.

  • JR

    Just been hung up on by an extremely rude woman in the passport office in dublin while trying to resolve the issue with my wifes pasport. I was trying to explain why the spelling of her name doesn’t match mine on the marrage cert and she just hung up.

    We got off to a bad start when I asked out of curiosity was there anyone at the pasport office who could deal with my problem in Irish and was given a sharp “No. We speak English Here.”

    Seems like the only solution is a two year wait with my surname in English or her maiden name on her pasport.

  • RG Cuan

    JR

    Déan teagmáil leis an Choimisinéir Teanga, sin an fáth a bhfuil sé ann!

    http://www.coimisineir.ie

  • JR

    Sílim go ndéanfaidh mé sinn.