When a survey on attitudes to and use of the Irish language in the Twenty-Six Counties was published in April, it was found that the vast majority of participants held a positive outlook on the native tongue. However, another report published in May shows how far behind the times the politicians of Leinster House are.
The survey, The Irish Language and the Irish People, found that over 93% of those who took part were positive about the language and wanted to see it preserved or revived. In terms of language use, almost half were rated as reasonably competent and one-quarter use the language regularly.
This level of growth was considered disappointing but the survey’s author Fr Micheál Mac Gréil added that, “Never since the time of the Famine was there so many people with a reasonable standard of Irish.”
The survey also found that this positive attitude towards the language was as prevalent among foreign-born participants as it was with those who were Irish-born.
Speaking at the launch of the survey, 26-County Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, Éamon Ó Cuív said, “It has been my own experience that in general, migrants who settle here in Ireland are open and positive about the Irish language, and many make the effort to learn Irish, particularly if they have children in school here.”
However, a report published on May 11 by 26-County Coimisinéir Teanga [Language Commissioner] Seán Ó Cuirreáin found that Ó Cuív’s own department was one of several bodies failing the Irish language community and in breach of language legislation as well.
Ó Cuirreáin’s annual report for 2008 found that other departments at fault were the Department of Environment, Heritage and Local Government, Department of Social and Family Affairs, Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Department of Education and Science, and the Department of Transport.
It also found that statutory bodies such as the Heritage Council, the Equality Authority and the Health Service Executive (HSE) were defaulting on their duties.
Ó Cuirreáin’s office received almost 600 complaints last year from Irish speakers unable to avail of state services in their native language. One-third of complaints came from Gaeltacht regions.
It seemed in some cases that government departments were needlessly trying to aggravate Irish speakers. In one instance it was found that the Department of Social and Family Affairs was going out of its way to remove the síneadh fada [accent] from the name of every child that was registered in Irish.
The backward policies continue unabated. The Irish-medium schools body Gaelscoileanna condemned the 26-County Department of Education for refusing to recognise seven new Irish-medium schools due to open in September this year.
In September 2008 26-County Education Minister Batt O’Keeffe began a review process and announced that no new schools would be opened, except in ‘rapidly developing areas’. All seven schools fall within these areas, and yet the Department continues to refuse recognition.
Gaelscoileanna also criticised the Department for maintaining Circular 0044/2007, which was introduced in 2007 by then-minister Mary Hanafin and exists to undermine the total immersion education system that is employed in Irish-medium schools. And this despite recently-published figures that once again show the benefits of the immersion method.
The Irish News reported on May 5 that: “According to [British] government targets, children should reach level four by the end of primary 7. Figures from 2007/08 obtained by The Irish News show that 82 per cent of children in Irish-medium schools achieved level four or five in English compared to 78.8 per cent of children in English-medium schools.
“Separate figures provided by Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta (InaG), the trust fund for the sector, compared performances over a three-year period. They showed that Irish-medium schools outperformed others in each of the three years in both English and Maths.”
In the Six Counties, Irish-medium education remains in a similar ordeal of struggle. Schools such as Gaelscoil Éanna and Coláiste Speirín continue to fight for recognition from the Stormont Department of Education. Meanwhile the entire sector continues to wait on the outcome of the Department’s Review of Irish-Medium Education, on which consultation ended in January.
The Department’s initial proposals caused concern among Irish language educationalists. It recommended that small Irish-medium schools be federated with larger English-medium schools and that units and streams be promoted over free-standing Irish-medium schools. These proposals would result in the undermining of total immersion education in the Six Counties.
With both partitionist states again showing their true colours against a revolutionary educational project that began in the early 1970s with Scoil an tSeachtar Laoch in Ballymun and Scoil Ghaeilge Bhéal Feirste in West Belfast, it once again falls to ordinary people to ensure that such reactionary agendas end in failure and that the Irish language and Irish language communities continue to flourish throughout the country.