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.