• Ursula Savage

Commentators should do their Irish language homework

Over the past few months it seems as though every week there is another negative article being published about the Irish language and/or those who speak it. These articles have varied focus such as the way it is taught in schools, the money spent providing services through Irish, whether or not the Irish language should be on a road sign etc, but all of these articles have one common theme: The author doesn't speak the language and they don't want anyone else to either.

The authors of these articles have a relentlessly negative outlook towards the Irish language which is founded on nothing but personal prejudice as far as I can tell. The most recent of these articles was Declan Lynch's article in the Irish Independent.

Recent research by Millward Brown and Conradh na Gaeilge show that 63% of people believe that all services should be made available through Irish in Gaeltacht areas, which is a considerable majority considering how big a commitment that is and how far the government currently is from doing just that. What is more significant is that this research showed that only 10% of people disagreed with this - and of this, only 4% strongly disagreed.

With this in mind, when I read articles such or watch Eoin Butler's video on the Irish language, I find it hard to believe that they can happily put their name to these poorly researched, unsubstantiated opinion pieces and call them fact.

Research published in 2015 shows that 72% of people in the south and 64% of people in the north believe that Irish-medium education should be available for those who wish to avail of it. One third of people in the south and one fifth of people in the north have said that they would like to learn more Irish. Statistics like this never factor into the articles written about the terrible state of the Irish language because it doesn’t suit their narrative. Those who take this line on the language seem determined to ignore facts and figures. They speak for the 4% with such certainty that I can't help but admire their self-confidence. It's not enough for them that they don't take anything to do with the language, they want to ensure that nobody else can either.

I could write here about the importance of the Irish language to national identity, I could write about the proven benefits of bilingualism, or I could discuss how minority language initiatives encourage community cohesion. I could provide facts and statistics on this too, if they were interested. That said, this shouldn’t be necessary. The protection of minority rights should not be contingent on preferences or opinions.

What some people refer to 'language life support' is in fact incredibly worthwhile investment in community initiatives. Aside from the cultural benefits associated with protecting such an integral part of our culture (which are also completely disregarded in the discourse of these commentators) the schemes run to assist Irish language community include youth work, support for families, parent and toddler groups, community events, raising cultural awareness and the list goes on. What is needed now is further investment in these programmes which provide demonstrable benefits to the areas in which they are based. Instead, while this work suffers from savage cuts there are still those standing on the side line complaining that it hasn't been cut off entirely.

It's too much to expect that these commentators to see the light and sign up for their nearest Irish classes, but it is time that they showed respect. There is a vibrant and growing Irish language community in Ireland which should be cherished and protected. The rights which Irish language speakers have cannot and should not be diminished by those who don't feel as though the language is part of their lives.

It makes me angry to think that the Irish language community must continually justify its right to exist in this way. No other minority group would be treated in such a way without being properly challenged to back up their arguments. I can't imagine it ever being acceptable for individuals to focus on any other minority group and to use their position of influence in the media to belittle and insult that group and to then call it 'debate' or 'discussion.' Put simply, these articles are attacks on a vulnerable community, under a poor guise of journalism.

In his article, Declan Lynch refers to the Irish language as “a failure only for the vast majority.” What he either doesn’t realise or is determined not to recognise is that he is, in fact, in the minority. Research, statistics and facts all show that the protection of the Irish language is something desired and demanded by the vast majority of people on this island.




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