Embarrassing reality check: only 1 of the 7 presidential contenders could debate in our first official language
4 November, 2011
Only one of the seven, Mr [Michael D.] Higgins, is fluent in Irish. The format of the debate had each of the candidates read a short prepared statement in Irish. The debate, chaired by current affairs presenter Páidí Ó Lionáird, was conducted mostly in English, with Mr Higgins speaking in Irish.
The other candidates (surprise, surprise) all spoke of their desire to be fluent in the language, and promised to promote Irish if elected. Translation: more coercion for the plebs, more taxpayers’ money to be wasted, but I can’t be bothered myself to learn the language. Such hypocrisy.
This is both revealing and embarrassing. We are the only EU country whose first official language is not spoken by the general population. 6 out of 7 candidates for the highest office in our country never thought it necessary or important enough, throughout their entire career, to be sufficiently familiar with the Irish language to carry on a conversation. And yet we spend tens of millions of euros annually in maintaining the fiction that Irish is a living language.
Fewer than 1% of Dáil and Senate debates are conducted in Irish, but Fianna Fáil succeeded (sic) in getting Irish recognised as a working language in the European Union. So taxpayers have to pay for a small army of translators to be available just in case an MEP wants to use a cúpla focal.
Bad as that is, the cost is probably small compared to the millions wasted as a result of the Official Languages Act 2003. For instance, Section 9(3) says that “The public has the right to expect that public bodies will send information …. to the public in general or to a class of the public in general in Irish or bilingually”. So every piece of official bumph is 100% larger than it needs to be because it’s printed in both English and Irish. You don’t get to choose which language you want your copy of a particular booklet to be written in; instead you get a jumbo version printed in both languages, which is wasteful beyond belief.
Our new President claims credit for establishing TG4 fifteen years ago. It costs €33 million annually to run, and has an audience share of under 3%, basically a rounding error. Indeed I suspect many of those viewers are watching subtitled programming in the second national language, or catching up on televised sport (for instance, Wimbledon tennis, which bizarrely is transmitted live by TG4 with an Irish language commentary).