Ireland’s First (sic) National Language

20 March, 2014

Seriously though, the Government must stop throwing vast amounts of citizens’ money at a failed project to resurrect the Irish language.  It also needs to realise the hypocrisy of continuing with coercion as a policy when the Government’s own members can’t be arsed to learn it.  We continue to witness a classic case of “Do as I say, not as I do”

Last week we read in the Irish Independent about “Opposition anger at ‘farce’ of tongue-tied minister” where the Government could not provide a single minister fluent in Irish to take Dail proceedings during Seachtain na Gaeilge.  Jobs Minister Richard Bruton was the most senior minister available to represent the Coalition due to the annual St Patrick’s Day exodus of ministers abroad.  He admitted that he could only respond in English during a debate that was scheduled to be conducted in Irish.

Mr. Bruton was later reported to have defended the Government’s record on promoting Irish.  This is entirely normal; hardly any Irish politicians can speak the language properly, and yet they all promise (threaten?) increased efforts to promote it. This hypocrisy reached its zenith in the 2011 Presidential Election, where only one candidate out of 7 could debate in Irish.  All spoke of their desire to be fluent in the language, and promised to promote Irish if elected.  In plain language: more coercion for us plebs, more taxpayers’ money to be wasted, but I’m too busy and important to take the trouble to learn the language.

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!  This is mind-boggling.  And yet we spend tens of millions of euros annually in maintaining the fiction that Irish is a living language.

This hypocrisy was further highlighted in another newspaper report in the past week, with the Irish Times reporting that

More than 1,000 bemused Irish residents of Amsterdam have received letters impeccably written in Irish – asking them if they would like to vote in the European elections in May.   On headed paper of the Amsterdam City Council, the letters begin “A dhuine uasail”, before going on to explain that as European citizens the recipients are entitled to vote in the Netherlands for Dutch MEPs.

On the other hand, “Má theastaíonn uait votáil i do thír dhúchais le haghaidh Pharlaimint na hEorpa, ní­ gá duit rud ar bith a dhéanamh ach ahmain má tá tú cláraithe cheana féin san Isiltír”, the Irish expats are advised . . . In other words, if they wish to vote in their own countries they need do nothing at all, unless they are already registered to vote in the Netherlands.

With perfect etiquette, the Amsterdam authorities sign off as Gaeilge with, “Le dea-mhein, Bárdas na Cathrach” – “With best wishes, the city corporation.”   ……. City hall spokeswoman Jutta Ravelli told The Irish Times the letters “prompted quite a few calls from Irish people.  Most were delighted they had been translated into Irish, but they also wanted to know if we had an English version – because they couldn’t understand a word of them.”

So here we have some innocent Dutch officials trying to do their duty under the mistaken apprehension that Irish people actually speak Irish.  The embarrassment.  Less than 1% of Dáil and Senate debates are conducted in Irish (Richard Bruton need not feel isolated in this respect), but the last Fianna Fáil government had the brass neck to persuade our European Union partners to have Irish recognised as a working language in the EU.  So Dutch and other European taxpayers have to pay for a small army of translators to be available just in case an Irish MEP wants to use a cúpla focal.

This again brought to mind the 2011 Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis (“When Irish Eyes Are Crying”), which highlighted our hypocrisy on what we laughingly call our “First National Language”.

…… The first thing you notice when you watch the Irish Parliament at work is that the politicians say everything twice, once in English and once in Gaelic. As there is no one in Ireland who does not speak English and a vast majority who do not speak Gaelic, this comes across as a forced gesture that wastes a great deal of time. I ask several Irish politicians if they speak Gaelic, and all offer the same uneasy look and hedgy reply: “Enough to get by.” The politicians in Ireland speak Gaelic the way the Real Housewives of Orange County speak French. To ask “Why bother to speak it at all?” is of course to miss the point. Everywhere you turn you see both emulation of the English and a desire, sometimes desperate, for distinction. The Irish insistence on their Irishness—their conceit that they’re more devoted to their homeland than the typical citizen of the world is—has an element of bluster about it, from top to bottom…..

It’s time we stood up to the Irish language lobby.  Blogger Jason O’Mahony has likened them to the Israeli lobby in the United States, because “many people don’t share their views, but are afraid of being called anti-Irish, and so we let them have a position of power and influence in our society out of all proportion to their numbers.”  He might also have likened them to the Neutrality obsessives, or the anti-nuclear nutters.  A herd of sacred cows is being maintained, and proper debate is being stifled.

The current policy has failed miserably.  Generations of schoolchildren have suffered endlessly under the yoke of compulsory Irish, for little evident benefit to them or society generally.  Hundreds of millions of Euros have been largely wasted

So what should the Government do instead?   That’s for another day.  But there may be lessons to be learnt in a country far, far away…..

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