Foras na Gaeilge more of a hindrance to the Irish language?

The Irish government has unveiled its 20-year strategy to encourage an increase in the number of people able to speak fluently in both Irish and English. Irish Times Irish language editor Pól Ó Muirí seems to think (subs required) that Foras na Gaeilge, which he describes as “the cross-Border language body set up as a sop to Sinn Féin as part of the Belfast Agreement”, is more of a hindrance than a help to the aim.

Not surprisingly, Ó Muirí senses that the strategy and subsequent statement of Taoiseach Bertie Ahern that “the Irish language has a special position in the life of the nation” owes its timing to the upcoming Dáil election but he still gives the proposals a guarded welcome.

“The challenge for the State is to make the Irish language available as widely as possible and to leave it as a choice for the citizen as to how they wish to engage with the Irish language when dealing with the State,” said Ahern. “It is a choice for the citizen, whether they wish to interact with the State in Irish or English. Our job is to make this choice available, as far is practical.”

The main aims of the 13-point strategy are to create a fully functioning bilingual society and to underpin the Gaeltacht as an Irish-speaking community.

“Language groups will be happy about the support for the language in legislation, in the Gaeltacht and in the education system but may not be as happy to see the Government’s continued endorsement of Foras na Gaeilge, for example,” says Ó Muirí.

He describes Foras na Gaeilge as “an extremely blunt and bureaucratic instrument” which enjoys little support among the State’s voluntary language groups.

“In its short history, Foras na Gaeilge has been involved in rows over recruitment and funding; it has failed to publish regular annual reports and accounts and has still not provided a corporate strategy of its own – a basic requirement for an organisation with a budget of almost EUR 20 million,” he says.

“It is neither dynamic nor proactive yet the Government sees no contradiction in endorsing both it and the voluntary sector which is being slowly strangled by the dead hand of the self-same Foras na Gaeilge.”

Also of interest is the announcement that Irish will remain an obligatory subject for Leaving Certificate students while Justice Minister Michael McDowell pointed out that 100,000 pupils now attend Gaelscoileanna.

“This is undoubtedly due to the constitutional, legal and practical protection afforded to Irish in a post-independence society,” he said.

The Government’s policies include:

– Full implementation of the Official Languages Act and facilitation of the public’s right to use Irish in dealings with the State.

– Provision of a wide range of services to parents who wish to raise their children through Irish.

– Continuous development of high-quality broadcast services through Irish, especially on TG4, RTÉ and Raidió na Gaeltachta.

– Special support for the Gaeltacht as an Irish-speaking area.

– Continuation of teaching of Irish as an obligatory subject from primary to Leaving Cert level while fostering oral and written competence.

– Enhanced investment in professional development and ongoing support for teachers as well as in provision of textbooks and resources and in support for innovative approaches to teaching and learning.

– Further development of all-Irish secondary education.

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    This line echoes that of the Irish language daily newspaper, Lá, which focuses on the failure of the Irish government to announce a strategy to implement the impressive vision they have set out in this document. It’s a bit much to announce a policy and, then, in the next breath to say it will take TWO YEARS to draft a strategy to implement the policy. What are Irish speakers to do in the meantime?

    What Irish speakers will be doing is getting on with their valuable work to advance Irish in whatever way they can – but this will be impaired by not being part of an overall strategy.

    Drafting and implementing a strategy is what Foras na Gaeilge should have been doing for the past few years instead of devoting their energies to fighting a proposal to relocate some of the staff to Donegal. If it had been more concerned with the Irish language than its own organisational well being, it might have a great deal more support than it has.

    Incidentally one of the reasons for Foras’ faillure to publish accounts since 2001 is its conjoined status with the Ulster Scots Agency which has serious questions to answer over the way it spends its monies, particularly during the tenure of former Chairman and newly proclaimed Dáil Candidate in Donegal, Lord Laird.

    The body which advised the Minister on the policy which was announced on Tuesday is Foram na Gaeilge, a committee of Irish language leaders from north and south. It was called to meet only a handful of times and last met in October 2005 which begs the question how much sooner could the Irish government had made this announcement had it got its finger out. And, also, why didn’t it merely ask the committee to continue to meet since October 2005 in order to draft a strategy which could have been announced also on Tuesday?

    Put into that mix also the unfortunate timing of the announcement, on the brink of Christmas and on the same day as the publication of the Moriarty Report. RTÉ, which has a statutory duty to report on the Irish language, failed to mention this landmark statement in its main evening news on Tuesday night.

    Putting aside cynicism, the fact that the Government are behind this statement is a good thing and can be built upon. Just as long as the Government abides by its public commitments and this wasn’t all a Christmas gimick.

  • páid

    a great synopsis OC.

    Ireland Inc. is full of project managers. They are world class at vision statements, strategy, milestones, feedback loops, spriocanna, and the works.

    There is a world-class challenge here, create language shift in a modern, very modern, post-modern liberal Western democracy. Situated right beside the world’s number 1 linguistic juggernaut.

    Never been done before, no copy-the-Finns manual available.

    The ultimate challenge for Mother Machree.

  • VernonJohn

    It is being done and even closer to the “juggernaut”.Look at what is happening in Wales and the success of “Immersion bilingual education” Even Bertie had to concede when he met our own dear Rhodri a couple of years ago that “whilst we can teach you about the economy we have a lot to learn from you about the language” or words to that effect.My two kids 12yrs and 15 yrs are completely bilingual Welsh/English although coming from a monoglot English background.And the best thing is that it is completely free of politics.

  • gaelgannaire

    Foras na Gaeilge have no role in the future of the Irish Language, their role has been and will continue to be simply to admininister the allocation of funds.

    They lack expertise, imaginative, indepedance, and any sense of radicalism and they have demonstrated a complete inability to learn from the mistakes of the past.

    They are also politically langled and tied by a chain to Ulster-Scots, whose supporters, even the most genuine of whom like myself have a completely different set of ambitions

    This however is no bad thing. The re-invigorated Irish Language movement is a ground-up movement, in dialectal oppostion to the government, north and south, it is from this conflict that the strength, vigor and energy of the movement is derived, one need only look at the recent resurgence of voluntarty activism on the group, pushed forward by young people like Na Gaeil Óga, i.e. Stádas, Acht, Feachtas ar son Mháire Mhic a’ Bhaird, Gaelfest, Raidio Fáilte, Raidio na Life agus srl.

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    Great stuff in the past three posts. Keep it going, a debate about the Irish language which actually addresses the issues and doesn’t get bogged down in the old quarrel.

  • David

    Official promotion seems to have been the kiss of death for the language in the past.

    Maybe if the Irish government banned Irish it might be more effective in increasing the number of speakers?

  • gaelgannaire


    Interesting comment but with respect nonsense.

    The problem is that the little non Irish speakers in general know next to nothing about the language its community, speakers, schools, kids etc.

    This is not surprising as their only source of information is the English language press.

    David 60% of what is written about Irish is lies. 30% is exageration (Gaeilgeoirs will not eat your hamster). About 10% is a version of the truth. They work on the principle that the more ignorant of language issues the reporter/columist is the more suitable they are to write on language issues.

    Newtown Emerson this morning for example.

    Get yourself a copy of ‘Rebuilding the Celtic Languages’ by Diarmuid Ó Néill and come back to me, it is literally pointless in my view to discuss your ‘point’ rationally.

    This kind of remark serves no purpose, it will bring down the quality of the thread, the debate will collapse, the bigotry that people are no longer permitted to express in respect to people with darker skin will be directed at the Gaels. The Irish speakers will then retreat back into Irish and debate the issue in Gaelic amongst themselves.

    Nobody will learn anything. – or maybe thats what many would like?

  • Oilibhear Chromaill

    I’m surprised that there’s been no mention on Slugger yet of the publication last week of a consultation paper on promised Irish language legislation for the North but I think it’s worth adding to the mix here.

    There’s a few weaknesses in the Consultation Paper and the entire Irish Language Act project, as it’s being handled by DCAL and the British Administration in the north, but the greatest weakness is the absence of broadcasting from the document.

    The lack of Irish on the BBC – in comparison to the platform afforded to the Welsh and Scots Gaelic languages by the British State Broadcaster – gets to the bottom of the issue. People in the North don’t necessarily want a paper mountain of forms and other official documents in Irish – Irish language versions of the top ten requested forms would do for a start – but to starve the Irish language community of support in areas such as broadcasting where it could really have an impact.

    Yes, of course, there’s a token presence on BBC Radio Ulster where the team of Blas do their best on their limited resources – but it pales into insignificance in comparison to the support given by the BBC to Welsh – £80m worth of programmes per year from the Licence Fund – and to Scots Gaelic.

    On the BBC homepage we see the real state of play – it’s a small thing but significant. You see the nations mentioned – Scotland/Alba, Wales/Cymru, England and Northern Ireland (no Tuaisceart EIreann or Uladh). How much would that cost is insignificant if the BBC was to recognise that it is right and proper to recognise that there’s a significant proportion of the people of the north – 10% – who would feel more included if that small gesture was made.

    And then why not have a daily Irish programme on BBC 2/3/4 or, if not that, make a considerable contribution to TG4 (a la S4C).

    The important thing is to provide high quality entertainment/infotainment as Gaeilge – if not one penny is spent on translating an official document, which wouldn’t be read in English not to mind Irish, and it’s all spent on this and, for example, providing high quality text books and educational resources for schoolchildren and books etc for teens and twenty somethings, then we’ll be on the right track.

    Of course the reason that broadcasting is excluded from the Irish Language Act consultation is calculated and deliberate. It’s a deliberate ploy to ensure that the Irish Language Bill comes back to Stormont where it can be further filleted by the unionists who’ve declared their intention to do so. The inclusion of broadcasting would preclude this as it is a devolved matter and, thus, the entire Bill would have to be processed in Westminster. (I’m normally allergic to British ‘democracy’ but in this case the Irish language is better in the frying pan of the house of commons rather than the fire of Stormont.)

    It also can’t be ruled out that Broadcasting was excluded from the Bill because of its value and worth.

    As for Newton Emerson, it’s par for the course for him to be ignorant of the main issues though it’s a bit much to describe people who aspire to bilingualism – and who realise their ambition – with the B-word.

    Similar misinformation was in the Irish News report on the day after the publication of the document – where a report contained the following ‘editorial’ slant – the bill for translation and interpretation arising from this is to ‘spiral into the tens of millions’.

    It was wrong in the Irish News – and extremely prejudicial – and the Newsletter also misreported the story, claiming that £18m was being spent on translation and interpretation costs. The actual cost last year for such costs was £99,000. The Newsletter conflated the figures for translation with other programme costs – such as the cost of educating children through Irish who would have to be educated in the normal system were it not for the Irish Medium Sector – and lumped it dishonestly under the heading ‘translation and interpretation’. No doubt it had the desired effect – ie scaring unionist readers out of their wits and putting them in a statelet of high dudgeon. But it did no favours for the standard of journalism at the ailing title.

  • confused

    Welsh people really love their language and is taught at their mothers knee. In Ireland those who want their children to speak Gaelic expect the State or school to accept that responsiblity. Attempts to promote the language are mixed up with politics and by hatred of all things British.Itis used as a weapon and therefore viewed by Unionists in a les favourable light.

  • páid

    highlights, once again, the confused thinking that Ulster Unionists have on the Irish Language issue. One day, sooner or later, they’re going to have a rethink.

  • gaelgannaire

    And there you go …

    We don’t really love our language. It is a weapon cos we all hate brits and we want to annoy unionists. We don’t have permission from unionists etc. etc.

    And the Welsh comparision, always a corker, as long as you don’t acknowledge that Welsh is compulsory in school up to 16 and that everything is bilingual by law (The Welsh Langauge Act 1993). Perhaps this helps the ‘love’!?

    And the Politics one!!! em. Plaid Cymru!! In English Plaid are about Home Rule – In Welsh it is about the Welsh Language I assure you.

    The genius ‘confused’ proceeds to tell Irish speakers about their family life, politics and motivations. Without not even a hint of being aware of how prejudiced that statement is.

    Again I recommend ‘Rebuilding the Celtic Languages’ with Diarmuid Ó Néill if you want to become even a little bit less ‘confused’.

    What about a little fact finding mission to Bóthar Seoighe? Cultúrlann? Getting in contact with Ultach Trust – believe me getting a little bit of knowledge is always good and can even unburden one from false assumptions and prejudice about one’s neighbours who chose to live their lives in their own way as I dearly hope you do yours.

  • Vern

    A little about my own experience.Brought up monoglot English speaker and remain so.Regarded Welsh as a dying language and better for everybody when it finally expired,failed my Welsh “O” level as i refused to attend classes.Left Wales lived in Scotland and Birmingham.returned home and had children;had to think about their education.Investigated local schools discovered our nearest is Welsh Medium.Now i’m what i suppose you could call a welsh unionist {although that’s a term you’ld never hear in Wales} and was a bit worried about the Cultural Nationalist thing voiced my doubts to head teacher who laughed and whispered she thought most of her staff were Labour-but then this is industrial S.Wales.Anyway kids went and we’ve never regretted it for a moment.They are completely bilingual and enjoy it.But to endorse what previous bloke said to meet mix and be generously received by my Welsh speaking n’bors has been an eye opener.PS my 15 yr old daughter arrived home from school last week having addressed her GCSE class on the Irish Famine-in Welsh of course-pity i couldn’t understand it!

  • gaelgannaire

    I see that tomorrow will bring a protest in support of Máire Nic an Bhaird, who was arrested last year by the PSNI for speaking Irish in their presence.

    The protest is organised by Na Gaeil Óga and will be held outside Laganside courthouse at 12 o clock.

    It is this kind of radical, strong, direct and determined action that secures the futures of minority languages.

    The case highlights the need for an Irish Language Act, it radicalises young Gaelic speakers and shakes up the Irish Language sector.