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…..

So, coincidentally or otherwise, we have elected as President the only candidate who actually can converse in our first official language (that’s the Irish language by the way).

From Irish Times on 19th October, reporting on the televised presidential debate held on our national Irish-language TV station, TG4.:

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).

Previous Puckstownlane posts on this topic:  here and here.  And Michael Lewis exposed the folly of our Irish language posturing in his Vanity fair article, referenced here.  Ouch.

Gombeen Nation blog, writing last month about recent “Gaeliban” excesses, had this:

Not long ago, plans to provide Dubliners with real-time signage indicating when buses were due had to be put on ice after complaints were made to An Coimisinéir Teanga …. This particular quango was set up to enforce Eamon O’Cuiv’s Official Languages Act, which stipulated that public signage and documentation must be in Gaelic as well as the spoken language of the country, English.  Gaelic must appear first of course.  As a result, crank complaints from Irish language careerists and hobbyists must now be taken seriously, and bus-using Dubliners must stand at stops in ignorance of when their transport will arrive.  The system, planned 10 years ago, would have used existing GPS data to inform those long-suffering customers of just how late their buses were running.

The Evening Herald reported on this here, under the headline “Gaeilgeoir protests delay new bus signs”.

It would take somebody like Jonathan Swift to deal properly with this madness.   The blog author is surely right in calling for ” a complete repeal of the wasteful Official Languages Act, at a time when we can scarcely afford such an extravagance of Official Ireland nonsense”.  I discussed this in December 2009 here.

While we are on the subject, I saw A.A.Gill in the Sunday Times of 31st July, writing about Pobol y Cwm, a Welsh-language soap opera:

I watched with incomprehension, which is how 99.9% of the world would see it. The point of Welsh-language telly is not that it brings entertainment to a minority who wouldn’t otherwise get any, but that it excludes a monoglot majority.

Sounds like TG4?

More from the Vanity Fair article by Michael Lewis  (“When Irish Eyes Are Crying”), skewering our hypocrisy on the “First (sic) 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…..

I am reminded of the conceit referred to above several times  day, but no reminder is more annoying than the regular receipt of a gas bill or an electricity bill, accompanied by a bulky brochure which is 100% larger than it needs to be because it’s printed in both English and Irish.  This is nonsensical and is a shameful waste of paper, ink, fuel etc etc. I am not given the option of receiving no brochure at all (a link to an online version would do nicely), nor am I given the right to opt out of the dual language version and get a slimline, monolingual version instead.

This is but a small reminder that the price of our having submitted to the vanity of the extreme wing of the Irish language lobby is high, both socially and ecologically.

Every time I receive a gas bill or an electricity bill I get a bulky brochure.  The brochure mainly contains stuff that I have absolutely no interest in reading and, to add insult to injury, it is 100% larger than it needs to be because it’s printed in both English and Irish. 

What a disgraceful waste of paper, ink, fuel etc etc.  I am not given the option of receiving no brochure at all (a link to an online version would do nicely), nor am I given the right to opt out of the dual language version and get a slimline, monolingual version instead.  The price of submitting to the vanity of the extreme wing of the Irish language lobby is high, both socially and ecologically.

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