Wednesday, 21 November 2007

The Irish Language : failing to learn lessons from our southern neighbours

Contrasting stories regarding ‘Gaelige’ this morning suggest that as Northern Ireland prepares to launch itself into inappropriate territory in deference to Irish Language extremism, the Republic of Ireland is being forced gradually to extricate itself from just such a hornet’s nest.

Demanding Irish Language qualifications from lawyers was ethno-nationalist folly which persists in other areas of life in the Republic such as teaching and the Civil Service. It is undoubtedly an indication of the increased pluralism and self-confidence of society in the south that this requirement is being abolished.

The prerequisite of Irish has been identified as “no longer practical or realistic” and by these criteria, as well as by basic standards of inclusiveness, surely other requirements which seek to prescribe Irish for those working in public jobs must also become obsolete. Ironically the expensive and impractical maintenance of Gaelic as an official European Union language is becoming increasingly onerous. A lack of qualified translators is delaying EU business and Bertie Ahern (who speaks no Irish himself) has to urge his colleagues to use the language on European visits in order to justify its status.

Simultaneously Sinn Fein are attempting to introduce special funding arrangements for Irish Language Medium Schools bringing them into line with the integrated sector. These measures will not only provide the schools with a funding advantage, but will impose a further administrative and financial burden on an already stretched education system.

ILM education is not analogous to the integrated sector and it does not deserve to be supported by special funding arrangements when other sectors are struggling to keep schools open. Integrated education is given allowances to encourage the work it does bringing children from both communities together and emphasising that which we share. The stark facts are that if anything ILM exacerbates what separates the two communities.

These stories for me epitomise everything that is wrong headed about the Irish Language movement. The priority of Irish Language activists should be to encourage the use of their language and to promote it amongst those who do not speak it, not to demand its inclusion in aspects of public life where it becomes divisive, expensive and discriminatory against those who do not wish to speak it. It appears that in the Republic of Ireland the latter attitude may be on the retreat whereas in Northern Ireland many wish to take us down the path which the south is now being forced to abandon.

13 comments:

beano said...

This is something I've been observing for some time now. Sinn Fein seem so insecure about their Irishness they actually seem to be making efforts to out-Irish "Ireland" (as the Republic insists on referring to itself).

Good on them for finally realising that this bullshit won't fly in a modern, forward-looking, European country though. Now if Bertie could just have a word with Ms Ruane, who really should have other priorities at the moment.

1ofthesedays said...

"The priority of Irish Language activists should be to encourage the use of their language and to promote it amongst those who do not speak it, not to demand its inclusion in aspects of public life where it becomes divisive, expensive and discriminatory against those who do not wish to speak it."
What is the point for Irish Language "Activists" (I would use the word speakers) in encouraging and promoting the language if (a) nobody can speak it and (b) nobody will speak it. This is the brave new world if it is no longer taught and if it is not protected in legislation like the Official Languages Act 2003.
Imagine for the moment that you are an Irish speaker. You are probably bilingual though because the "divisive, expensive and discriminatory" system until recently would not allow you to do any of your required business with the state through Irish.
The ability to speak Irish has not been a requirement for public service for a long time. It is required in teaching because Irish is part of the compulsory curriculum.
Why don't you sign up for Gaelport.com's newsletter to see the other side.

Chekov said...

Thanks for your contribution 1ofthesedays.

Firstly I think you raise an important point when you admit that any Irish speaker is likely to be bi-lingual. Your interpretation of why that might be is clearly going to be differ from mine, but in modern Ireland, whether North or South, English is the common language amongst those who were born here. Providing publics services is a matter merely of efficacy and value for money. If people can speak English perfectly well they are not being discriminated against if they have to conduct their business with the state in English and ultimately a more efficient, cost effective service will be delivered.

You mention that the Irish requirement has been a necessity in public life for a long time. That is very true. Irish has been on the state’s artificial respirator basically since the Free State came into existence. And yet nearly 90 years later in the modern Republic there is still a lack of translators, a lack of speakers and the need for the language is becoming less and less in public life. Read the articles carried in the press regarding the take-up of Irish Language translated documents etc. and the amount of money expended on them. I think they tell a story. Whilst Irish is a laudable cultural pursuit, it should not be foisted on people and it should not be required of them. Certainly in Northern Ireland, where the language requirements do not exist, we should certainly not be going down the road of creating such requirements.

“It is required in teaching because Irish is part of the compulsory curriculum.”

And this is the kind of Ireland which unionists are being asked to accept. One where the attitude is “it’s our way or the highway” in terms of culture and language. Provision can be made for the Irish Language in schools without demanding that every teacher be required to speak it.

I am quite aware of the “other side”. I have heard all the arguments ad nauseum and they all amount to a prescriptive reading of Irish identity and an attempt to implicate that speaking Irish is a route to more authentic sense of Irishness.

1ofthesedays said...

Chekhov,

There has been no requirement for civil servants to be able to speak Irish since the 1970s. However they do get an extra 10pc when applying for promotion purposes. Anecdotally many Irish speakers working in the public sector do not divulge their ability for fear of being obliged to deal with people like me :D

Providing public services is not just about efficacy and value for money. If that were the case their would be no services provided to any minorities.

You say there is a lack of translators and you are right. Recent articles in the national papers reported that there weren't enough interpreters available in Europe to interprete our MEPs. This is more positive than saying that all the translators are sitting around doing nothing because none of our MEPs are speaking Irish for them to translate.

It's all about perspective. If you have ever been to Holland you will know what a bilingual country is like and what the possibilities are if people can get over being taught a language badly/ post-colonial angst/ Peig.

Chekov said...

“However they do get an extra 10pc when applying for promotion purposes.”

So there is a need for bribery in order to encourage the language. Now that is solely a matter for the ROI and I wouldn’t presume to tell people there how their services should be run, but I will say that such a measure would represent clear discrimination against one community if it was ever introduced in Northern Ireland. Unless of course a similar scale exists for everyone who speaks a second language (which in my understanding it does not) .If this is not the case then that measure pre-supposes that the ideal condition of an Irish state is that it be Gaelic-speaking. It sets ethno-nationalist precepts on the ideal of Irish identity.

“Providing public services is not just about efficacy and value for money. If that were the case their would be no services provided to any minorities.”

That’s not the case. An effective service is one that works. Therefore services for minorities are provided based on need. If people have difficulty speaking English there is a necessity to cater for different languages in order to avoid difficulties in the provision of those services. There is no such need where everyone speaking a certain language is perfectly fluent in the default language that service is provided in. Whether the ROI provide public services in Irish or not is frankly none of my business. In Northern Ireland there is no need for such profligacy, whilst currently there is a need for provisions in Mandarin or Polish for example.

“You say there is a lack of translators and you are right. Recent articles in the national papers reported that there weren't enough interpreters available in Europe to interpret our MEPs. This is more positive than saying that all the translators are sitting around doing nothing because none of our MEPs are speaking Irish for them to translate.”

That isn’t the main thrust of what the articles are saying. The translation of DOCUMENTS into Irish is the main problem. Bertie Ahern (who is completely Anglophone) is having to whip up enthusiasm amongst the Republic’s representatives in order to get them to speak Irish and prove to the EU that the language’s official status isn’t a complete waste of time. When they do make these token efforts translation is proving difficult.

“It's all about perspective. If you have ever been to Holland you will know what a bilingual country is like and what the possibilities are if people can get over being taught a language badly/ post-colonial angst/ Peig”

To the best of my knowledge Dutch is the only official language in Holland (perhaps Fresian also?) and English is taught as a foreign language and spoken very widely. Patently this is an excellent thing educationally. I would be most supportive of bi-lingualism amongst Irish people North and South. However, I’m also bound to say that Irish, whilst it is a vital and enriching part of the culture of this island, does not actually increase anyone’s spectrum of communication, and so is clearly not analogous to Dutch people learning English. Neither is the Dutch language comparable to Irish, simply because Dutch is the normal medium through which Dutch people communicate with each other.

OneForTheRoad said...

You spelt Gaeilge wrong at your first attempt.

Maybe thats why you put it in needless 'inverted commas'.

Also, in reference to Beano's comment, the prefix of 'Republic' ocurs only when referring to the football team. Ireland is the correct term when referring to the country, as per the constitution.

The term 'Republic of Ireland' is merely a description of the state.

I agree with 1ofthesedays here - how exactly can the publication of an official text or document in TWO languages, both as Gaeilge and in English, be discriminatory to any party?

Chekov said...

I didn't say publishing a document in two languages is discriminatory, I said that it is a waste of money.

Anonymous said...

My brother and his family are moving to Russia so I have decided to learn Russian, the problem is I have no idea where to start! Russian is not as widely spoke as languages such as French and German so I am having trouble locating a tutor. So I have decided that I am going to do it myself online. Does anyone have any experience of learning language online? Is it easy when there’s no one to speak to? Also what are the prices like?

Chekov said...

Anon. I sympathise with your predicament as I'm currently attempting to learn Russian from a book and CD combo myself. It's hard going.

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