TG4 has put language back in Ireland’s cultural life

Farrel Corcoran was involved with TG4, or TnaG as it was on the day it launched ten years ago. In a debate around language that has often become distracted on politics and an often disabling obsession with tokenism, TG4, he believes is a perfect example of how utility has succeeded when given its head:

It was never going to be easy, not just because of severe resource limitations but because of the hostile ideological environment, policed by a small number of newspaper pundits trying to shout down the message from opinion polls showing broad support for public funding of broadcasting in Irish.

It was clear by the 1980s that the old polarised ways in which we thought about Irish were changing. Insistence on a highly prescriptive sense of Irish identity, based on claustrophobic policies that held sway since Independence, began to wane, as did its opposite, the post-colonial shame that associated the Irish language with backwardness.

Deepening contact with the EEC fostered the novel idea that linguistic minorities in all parts of Europe should have a “right to communicate”. This new self-confidence was put to the test in the campaigns of the 1980s to establish a Gaeltacht television service, a reaction to the arrival of S4C in Wales and to the perceived marginalisation of Irish language programming in RTÉ, where commercial pressure to maximise audience size was getting intense. Those campaigns were a direct riposte to what Gaeltacht activists rightly saw as political dithering and posturing in Dublin.

What has changed in the 10 years since the launch of TG4 and how do we evaluate its current role in Irish society?

For media critics working totally within a market ideology, with no interest in TG4’s actual output, the only question has been its audience share. In fact, TG4 has managed to increase its audience each year, to the point where its share is now five times greater than when it started.