Around tea time on Thursday, before a multitude of Irish language grandees, the new all Ireland funded Irish language web service, Tuairisc.ie (report), was launched.
This follows a public competition earlier this year – a competition in which an application I was involved in was shortlisted but ultimately unsuccessful. Fair warning, then, this could be all down to sour grapes. The public competition was established by Foras na Gaeilge to seek a replacement for Gaelscéal, whose funding had been withdrawn for poor sales last year. As a consequence of that decision, it was decided that the future for Irish language print journalism was online. (I hate to say I told you so – but that was my position back in 2008 during the heady days when I was editor of Lá Nua.) So this paved the way for Tuairisc.ie, and the.ie is important, an online newspaper.
Let’s get the plaudits out of the way first. This is a news website of substance. There’s a range of national, international and Gaeltacht news stories, there’s a good sports section and an impressive culture section – more impressive than many English language publications in my view.
For the first time in my memory, an Irish language publication published its own opinion poll, carried out on its behalf by pollsters Millward Brown. This poll surveyed people throughout the Republic of Ireland on their view of the economic prospects for the Irish economy. According to those surveyed, we were running the risk of repeating the same mistakes which led to the crash of 2008 and the subsequent bailout in 2010.
And that’s where my main objection to Tuairisc.ie lies. Although the website receives public money via Foras na Gaeilge, a cross border body, from the north and the south, its opinion poll in its very first edition was confied to the Republic of Ireland only. It receives all Ireland funding, but doesn’t have in this more important news story an all Ireland approach. It’s all about .ie, you see. It will be interesting to see what the reaction of Foras na Gaeilge will be to this as the all Ireland language body is already under fire for its apparent anti-northern bias in the award of contracts for ‘lead groups’ earlier this year.
There are a number of excellent articles relating to Northern Ireland matters – but it’s almost as if they were written as ‘foreign news’. This is unfortunate for a publication which is funded partially by the Northern Ireland Executive, a requirement included in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages provisions for Irish, provisions which were hard fought for.
One of the main boasts of Tuairisc.ie is that it will be written in ‘dea-Ghaeilge’ – good Irish. And it is. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing until it’s used as a tool of exclusion and the first edition features a strong attack on Gaeltacht Minister, Joe McHugh, who was famously appointed by Taoiseach Enda Kenny during the Summer though he admits that his Irish was not ‘liofa’. Tuairisc was also launched by former RTE DG, Cathal Goan, a native of Belfast. In his launching address, Goan attacked the appointment of Mr McHugh who, at the time of the attack, was attending the Golden Bridges Conference organised by former Lord Mayor Mairtín Ó Muilleoir. There he was described as giving an Irish lesson.
Here’s what Cathal Goan said regarding Enda Kenny’s appointment: “Will his legacy be that a little Irish is now enough, and that greater proficiency is only required to demonstrate one’s superior fluency to Gerry Adams?” questioned Goan.
“Let us hope that Tuairisc.ie will keep a close eye not just on the less than fluent Minister of State but on all of Government, as they attempt to continue in power for 2016 when symbolism will be sought at every crossroads to show how Irish we are.”
I raise this because as important as it is to serve the Irish language community, the success and sustainability of Tuairisc will be judged by its ability to attract a wide readership and its consequent advertising pulling power. That may not be entirely compatible with an overweaning dedication to ‘dea Ghaeilge’.
While there’s an excellent feature on the top five speeches in Irish given by winning All Ireland captains in the sports section, prompted by Kilkenny captain, Lester Ryan’s recent winning address, a feature which includes clips of each speech, there’s very little evidence that Tuairisc in its initial offering appreciates the power and flexibility of the internet. Most of the pieces don’t have internet links to external sources included and there’s no comment facility, which cuts down on the attraction of the site in a big way. These may be features which will be developed later.
In conclusion, all above stated reservations aside, I’m glad that Tuairisc.ie is now online. It’s going to have its work cut out for it. In the past short while RTÉ have launched an Irish language news service online – so it’s very much a case of you wait for years for an Irish language online news service to come along then two arrive almost all at once. It will be very useful for the likes of Irish language internet activists as it will give us more material in our own language to share and link and gripe about. I probably will be accused of sour grapes as I have made criticisms which I regard as constructive – but which others may not – but I think I’m glad that this poisoned chalice has passed me by on this occasion. What the Irish language really needs is an independent forum for creative discussion and debate. That’s the role to which I aspire.