Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 2 March 2021
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
The Irish Language and the New Decade New Approach Agreement: Conradh na Gaeilge
Táimid ag tosú an chruinnithe sa Dáil inniu. Ós rud é gur Seachtain na Gaeilge atá ann, d’iarr mé ar chléireach an choiste go mbeadh seirbhís curtha ar fáil d’aon duine a theastódh sí uaidh nó uathaí. Aon duine nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu, beimid ag caint trí Bhéarla freisin. Beidh an cruinniú dátheangach ach tá sé an-tábhachtach go mbeidh an bhéim, más féidir, ar an nGaeilge, ach tuigim nach bhfuil Gaeilge ag gach duine, ach go háirithe.
I asked cléireach an choiste go mbeadh seans ag daoine Gaeilge a labhairt agus go mbeadh translation service ann do gach duine, that anybody who wished to speak Irish could do so and that if they did people would not be at a disadvantage, because the Oireachtas has a simultaneous translation service. I appreciate and understand that people who are not in this physical building or in this room may not understand all of the Irish, so beidh an cruinniú dátheangach. We will try to conduct this meeting bilingually but giving a priority, if I can, to Gaeilge más féidir é sin a dhéanamh as ucht na seachtaine atá ann.
Tá apologies faighte agam ó na Teachtaí Jennifer Carroll MacNeill agus James Lawless, Claire Hanna MP agus Michelle Gildernew MP. Is féidir le Baill an Oireachtais a bheith istigh san áit seo nó is féidir leo a bheith ina noifigí i dTeach Laighean. Remote participation from outside the Leinster House campus is not possible. Participants are asked to keep their microphones muted unless they are contributing. Simultaneous interpretation is provided for those participating in the Dáil Chamber.
I propose to call members in the following order and time limits, repeating as time allows: ten minutes for larger parties and groups and five for smaller parties to include questions and answers. I will try to rotate the speakers and if it is acceptable, we will take Fianna Fáil, Fine Gael, Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party, Labour and Independents. Does anybody have any questions on that? Níl ceist ag aon duine, mar sin leanfaimid ar aghaidh leis an roinnt sin.
Cuirim fáilte speisialta roimh Julian de Spáinn, ard-rúnaí Chonradh na Gaeilge, Dr. Niall Comer, uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge, agus Conchúr Ó Muadaigh agus Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh ó Chonradh na Gaeilge.
Caithfidh mé ráiteas a léamh agus déanfaidh mé mo dhícheall é a léamh as Gaeilge. I must read the following statement on privilege to gach daoine. Ba mhaith liom a chur ar aird na bhfinnéithe go bhfuil, de bhua alt 17(2)(l) den Acht um Chlúmhilleadh 2009, finnéithe faoi chosaint ag lánphribhléid maidir leis an bhfianaise a thugann siad don choiste seo chomh fada is atá siad lonnaithe sa seomra coiste féin. Má ordaíonn an coiste do na finnéithe ámh éirí as fianaise a thabhairt i leith ní áirithe agus má leanann siad dá tabhairt, níl siad i dteideal tar éis sin ach pribhléid cháilithe i leith na fianaise acu. Ordaítear dóibh nach dtabharfar ach fianaise a bhaineann le hábhar na n-imeachtaí seo agus fiafraítear dóibh cleachtadh parlaiminte a urramú nach cóir, más féidir, daoine ná eintiteas a cháineadh ná líomhaintí a dhéanamh ina n-aghaidh, ina ainm, ina hainm nó ina n-ainm ar shlí ar bhféadfaí iad a aithint. Ba mhaith liom iad a chur ar an eolas go ndéanfar na ráiteas tionscnaimh a chuireann na finnéithe faoi bhráid an choiste a fhoilsiú ar shuíomh ghréasáin an choiste tar éis an chruinnithe seo. Meabhraítear do chomhaltaí an cleachtadh parlaiminte atá ann le fada nár chóir dóibh tuairimí a thabhairt maidir le duine atá taobh amuigh de na Tithe nó leis na hoifigigh ina ainm nó ina hainm nó ar shlí ina bhféadfaí é nó í a aithint. Glaoim anois ar an Dr. Niall Comer a ráitis a dhéanamh.
Dr. Niall Comer:
Gabhaim buíochas leis an choiste as cuireadh a thabhairt dúinn teacht anseo inniu. Ar dtús, is mian liom, thar ceann Chonradh na Gaeilge, buíochas a ghabháil leis an gcoiste as an fháilte agus an deis a bheith anseo inniu chun cás na Gaeilge mar atá sé ó Thuaidh a phlé.
Sula dtosaímid an plé sin, is ceart dom a lua, mar atá a fhios ag na baill, gur cuireadh tús le Seachtain na Gaeilge 2021 inné, 1 Márta, agus beidh féile na bliana seo ag dul ar aghaidh go dtí Lá Fhéile Pádraig. Táimid an-sásta go bhfuil an t-imeacht seo ag titim amach i rith Sheachtain na Gaeilge. De dheasca cúrsaí paindéime, tá Seachtain na Gaeilge i mbliana á reáchtáil beagnach go hiomlán ar líne. Beidh scoth imeachtaí ar fáil agus iarraim ar na baill mar pholaiteoirí iarracht ar leith a dhéanamh i mbliana an Ghaeilge a úsáid agus a chur chun cinn go háitiúil, sa pháirtí, agus i gcruinnithe Rialtais nuair a bhíonn an deis acu. Beidh Conradh na Gaeilge agus foireann Sheachtain na Gaeilge ar fáil chun tacú leo é sin a dhéanamh.
Mar atá a fhios ag na baill, baineann ár dtéama cainte agus an plé inniu le ceisteanna cearta teanga ó Thuaidh. I gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta 1998, gealladh go mbeadh ré úr comhionannais don Ghaeilge ó Thuaidh. Tugadh coimitmintí sonracha agus láidre maidir leis an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn agus a chosaint. Ina measc, gealladh go mbeadh beart diongbháilte á dhéanamh leis an teanga a chur chun cinn; úsáid na teanga a éascú agus a chur chun cinn ó bhéal agus i scríbhinn sa saol poiblí agus príobháideach araon nuair a bhíonn an ráchairt chuí ann; féachaint, nuair is féidir, le constaicí a chuirfeadh beaguchtach ar nó a chuirfeadh in éadan chothabháil nó forbairt na teanga a shárú; agus dualgas reachtúil a chur ar an Roinn Oideachais leis an Ghaelscolaíocht a chur chun cinn agus a éascú ar an dóigh chéanna a ndéantar i gcás an oideachais imeasctha.
In ainneoin na gcoimitmintí seo, cuireadh baic leanúnacha roimh phobal na Gaeilge an teanga a úsáid agus rinneadh ionsaithe leanúnacha orthu siúd a roghnaigh a saol a chaitheamh trí Ghaeilge ó lá go lá. Leis sin, tháinig brú ón phobal féin cearta Gaeilge a lárú sa dlí agus reachtaíocht teanga a bhaint amach den chéad úr riamh ó Thuaidh.
Ag éirí as na hiarrachtaí sin, mar chuid de Chomhaontú Chill Rímhinn in 2006, gealladh go soiléir “go dtabharfaidh [...] Rialtas [na Breataine] isteach Acht Gaeilge ina léireofar taithí na Breataine Bige agus na hÉireann agus oibreoidh sé i gcomhpháirt leis an Fheidhmeannas [...] le forbairt na Gaeilge a fheabhsú agus a chosaint.” Is coimitmint í sin nár comhlíonadh riamh. Ar an drochuair, faoin am a tháinig an toghchán Tionóil in 2016, bhí trí iarracht caillte sa tréimhse deich mbliana sin Acht Gaeilge a thabhairt isteach. Tháinig an cheist os comhair an Tionóil trí huaire agus rinneadh comhairliúchán poiblí ar an ábhar faoi thrí; gach uair, bhí tacaíocht ó thromlach mór ar son cearta teanga ach cuireadh bac ar aon dul chun cinn sa Tionól féin. A bhuí le hiarrachtaí phobal na Gaeilge agus Chonradh na Gaeilge, d’éirigh linn tromlach na bpáirtithe sa Tionól a spreagadh chun tacú leis an Acht Gaeilge neamhspleách, rud arb ionann agus 50 as 90 comhalta thar cúig pháirtí éagsúla.
Ag an phointe seo fosta a thosaigh feachtas An Dream Dearg, a threisigh an feachtas #AchtAnois agus a thiomáin go croílár an dioscúrsa polaitiúil é ó Thuaidh agus a chuir cearta teanga ó Thuaidh ar bharr chlár na gcainteanna sna próisis idirbheartaíochta idir 2017 agus 2020. Le teacht Eanáir 2020, baineadh amach coimitmint nua do reachtaíocht Gaeilge sa chomhaontú Ré Nua, Cur Chuige Nua. Fríd an reachtaíocht sin, bhunófaí oifig coimisinéara teanga agus caighdeáin theanga dhea-chleachtais. Cé nach raibh gach rud ann sa chomhaontú - agus creid uainn, níl sé ar an phíosa reachtaíochta teanga is fearr a scríobhadh riamh, ná baol air - is deis atá ann tús dáiríre a chur le cosaint reachtúil na teanga ó Thuaidh, rud atá thar a bheith stairiúil ann féin. Bunaíodh go leor de na forálacha a cuireadh san áireamh sa reachtaíocht ar mholtaí a rinne Conradh na Gaeilge leis na páirtithe agus leis an dá Rialtas le blianta anuas.
Gealladh go mbeadh an reachtaíocht teanga i bhfeidhm laistigh de 100 lá ón chomhaontú a bheith aontaithe. Ar an drochuair, is rud é sin nár tharla. Gealladh fosta go mbeadh an straitéis Ghaeilge a gealladh mar chuid de Chomhaontú Chill Rímhinn 2006 i bhfeidhm laistigh de sé mhí, rud eile nár tharla. Breis agus bliain ar aghaidh ón chomhaontú sin anuraidh, tá pobal na Gaeilge fós ag fanacht ar chomhlíonadh coimitmintí. Is iad Rialtas na hÉireann agus Rialtas na Breataine comhscríbhneoirí agus comhshínitheoirí an chomhaontaithe seo, agus cé go dtiteann sé ar an Fheidhmeannas féin é seo a chur i bhfeidhm, tá ról lárnach ag an dá Rialtas i bhfíorú na físe seo gan a thuilleadh moille. Mura ndéantar beart de réir briathair go fíorluath, tá deis mhór ann go gcaillfear amach ar a reachtaíocht teanga sa mhandáid reatha ina bhfuil muid. Má tharlaíonn sé sin, tig linn a bheith cinnte de go mbeidh an reachtaíocht Ghaeilge mar chnámh spairne idir na páirtithe sa chéad fheachtas toghchánaíochta eile ag tús 2022. Dhéanfadh sin dochar ollmhór don Ghaeilge agus do phobal a labhartha. Is mian linn é sin a sheachaint. Déanfar é sin tríd an reachtaíocht a chur i bhfeidhm anois.
Chuige sin, is mian linn iarraidh ar an choiste seo rún a rith go rachaidh an coiste i dteagmháil leis na páirtithe leasmhara ar an dóigh seo a leanas: go scríobhfar chuig an Aire Gnóthaí Eachtracha, an Teachta Coveney, agus chuig Rúnaí Stáit na Breataine, Brandon Lewis MP, atá beirt mar chomhshínitheoir ar na comhaontuithe éagsúla seo, agus go scríobhfar freisin chuig Oifig an Fheidhmeannais ó Thuaidh, le héileamh orthu a chinntiú go gcuirfear i bhfeidhm na reachtaíochta Gaeilge agus an straitéis Ghaeilge a luaitear sa chomhaontú Ré Nua, Cur Chuige Nua gan a thuilleadh moille. Ba mhór againn dá nglacfaí leis an rún seo. Beidh Conradh na Gaeilge sásta comhoibriú leis an choiste na bearta sin a chur i gcrích agus ina chuid iarrachtaí eile coimitmintí ar son na Gaeilge, teanga na tíre seo, i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta a bhaint amach chomh luath agus is féidir. Gabhaim míle buíochas le baill an choiste as ucht a gcuid ama a thabhairt dúinn ar maidin.
Gabhaim buíochas le Niall Comer. Ar mhiste le haon duine dá chomhghleacaithe aon rud a rá anois láithreach sula rachaimid timpeall na bpáirtithe atá i láthair anseo nó ar an Idirlíon? Tá cead cainte ag aon duine den toscaireacht.
Mr. Julian de Spáinn:
Mar aon leis an uachtarán, gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach as an deis a bheith anseo inniu. Le béim a chur air agus an díospóireacht a threorú i dtreo an bhunruda atáimid ag iarraidh a chur trasna, tá práinn faoi leith leis an gceist seo. Bhí práinn riamh ann agus 15 bliain níos déanaí táimid fós ag caint faoin straitéis agus faoin reachtaíocht a gealladh. Mar a dúirt an t-uachtarán, tá práinn faoi leith ann mar gheall go bhfuil toghchán ag teacht in 2022. Caithfear é seo a chur i gcrích anois. I am trying to emphasise the urgency of what needs to be done in the coming months to ensure this does not carry forward into 2022. Caithfear é a réiteach anois. Is é sin an fáth go bhfuilimid anseo inniu.
Gabhaim míle buíochas le Julian de Spáinn. Rachaimid timpeall dóibh siúd atá anseo sa Teach agus dóibh siúd atá linn ar an Idirlíon. Tosóidh mé le Fianna Fáil. Tá an floor ag an Teachta Smith. Is féidir leis caint i mBéarla nó i nGaeilge; there is automatic translation anyway.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an gCathaoirleach agus na daoine uaisle atá leis agus leis na páirtithe eile. Cuirim fáilte mhór roimh gach duine inniu. Ní mór dom a rá go dtuigim an tábhacht a bhaineann lenár dteanga dhúchais sa lá atá inniu ann. Is cuid í dár gcultúr, dár n-oidhreacht agus, ar ndóigh, dár bhféiniúlacht. Mar sin, tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach go seasann muid go léir ar a son. Tacaím leis an bhfeachtas atá curtha ar bun ag an gconradh agus leis na haidhmeanna atá le baint amach aige chomh maith. Ní mór dúinn oibriú le chéile agus aitheantas ceart a fháil don Ghaeilge. Mar a deireann an seanfhocal, ní neart go cur le chéile. Gan amhras, le blianta anuas tá méadú tar éis teacht ar líon na mbunscoileanna agus na meánscoileanna a fheidhmíonn trí mheán na Gaeilge. Ba cheart go mbeadh an seans céanna ag na daoine amuigh sna ceantair agus iad nach bhfuil ag freastal ar na scoileanna ná na coláistí. Táim buíoch as ucht an obair a dhéanann Conradh na Gaeilge i rith Sheachtain na Gaeilge agus, go mór mór, i rith na bliana ar fad, gach bliain, ar fud na tíre. Déanaim comhghairdeas le gach éinne atá páirteach in obair Chonradh na Gaeilge ar fud na tíre. Araon leis an gCathaoirleach, cuirim fáilte mhór roimh na finnéithe agus déanaim comhghairdeas leo as an dea-obair a dhéanann siad ar fud na tíre ó cheann ceann na bliana.
That is no problem. If the Senator wants to wait, there is no issue with that at all. Níl aon dabht faoi sin. I would just like to ask ceist amháin, mas féidir liom. Tá na finnéithe tar éis a rá go gcaithfimid scríobh chuig roinnt daoine. Aontaím go gcaithfimid brú a chur láithreach ar na Rialtais agus ar na daoine atá i gceannas ar chúrsaí polaitiúla sa Tuaisceart chun go dtosóidh athruithe móra chomh luath agus is féidir. Cén fáth nár tharla na hathruithe sin go dtí seo? An féidir freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist sin?
Cén fáth nach bhfuil sé ag obair anois, mar a ghealladh i dtosach?
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
Agus an cheist sin á fhreagairt, tagann frustrachas fríd agus muid ag plé na ceiste. Dúradh go mbeadh an reachtaíocht maidir leis an nGaeilge i bhfeidhm taobh istigh de 100 lá agus go mbeadh straitéis na Gaeilge i bhfeidhm taobh istigh de sé mhí. Níor tharla an dá rud sin. Dar ndóigh, táimid ag plé leis na húdaráis, leis na hoifigigh agus leis na hAirí ó Thuaidh agus tá dul chun cinn áirithe á dhéanadh ar cuid éagsúla den comhaontú ach i dtaobh na rudaí forleathana sin – an reachtaíocht agus an straitéis, níl siad againn fós. Táimid airdeallach agus aithnímid gur tháinig an phaindéim a chur moill ar chúrsaí, ach tá an ghnáth chóras reachtaíochta agus an gnáth próiseas ó Thuaidh ag obair, tá na polaiteoirí ag obair agus tá rudaí ag dul tríd an Tionóil agus an Feidhmeannas faoi láthair. Cé go nglacaimid go bhfuil moill ann agus caithfimid a bheith tuisceanach maidir leis an bpaindéim a thit amach, táimid airdeallach gur bunchlocha lárnacha de chuid an chomhaontú ó 2020 iad an reachtaíocht agus straitéis na Gaeilge agus beimid iontach buartha mura gcuirtear i bhfeidhm iad gan breis mhoill. Mar a dúirt an t-uachtarán, beimid ag amharc ar toghcháin eile an bliain seo chugainn agus go mbeidh an Ghaeilge mar chnámh spairne san toghcháin sin.
Creidim féin go mbaineann sé dár leas ar fad go mbeadh an reachtaíocht seo i bhfeidhm chomh luath agus is féidir.
To quickly summarise, we are hugely frustrated that we have not had the opportunity to see the legislation or the strategy which were promised come into effect yet. The legislation was promised within 100 days and the strategy was time-bound within six months. Neither of those has been realised in terms their legislative passage through the Assembly or the Executive. We are not naive, we are aware Covid has happened and that this global pandemic has impacted on some of the processes in Stormont. That said, normal legislative procedures are up and running, Stormont is up and running, the Assembly and the Executive are up and running. These were two cornerstone components of the New Decade, New Approach agreement. They are very much the main issues of the 2017 to 2020 impasse and we believe there would be a huge crisis in confidence if this current mandate finished and those cornerstone issues were not implemented. We were told 100 days and six months. We are now well past both those deadlines and our frustration is growing. There is no real reason that those could not be implemented almost instantaneously.
We are anxious that this not be allowed run into another election. We are very anxious that the Irish language not be used or misused as an election issue. We believe it would be to the benefit of all - everyone in this committee and everyone North and South - to adhere to the promises made in the Good Friday Agreement and as an extension of that the promises made in the New Decade, New Approach agreement, to get that legislation and the strategy over the line as soon as possible. I remind the committee we had a successful High Court case in terms of the Irish language strategy in 2017. The judge put a legal impetus on the Executive to get that strategy through as soon as possible. Therefore, not only do we have the commitments from the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrew's Agreement and the New Decade, New Approach deal, we also have a legal direction on the Executive to get that through as soon as possible. We do not see any reason for stalling any longer. The only impasse would be a political one, at this stage. The legislation is predetermined, it is pre-written. As Dr. Comer said, it is not the best legislation by any means but we must get what was promised in the bank now, start rolling it out and see how it impacts communities on the ground.
Deir tú go bhfuil an Bille ann ach nach bhfuil sé curtha faoi bhráid na polaiteoirí sa Tuaisceart. An bhfuil bac polaitíochta ag baint leis sin? Is that a political barrier, if the legislation is ready and if it is proofed and ready to run is it a political impasse, basically?
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
Bhí muid iontach soiléir go raibh orainn an reachtaíocht seo a bheith réidh sular raibh an comhaontú sin déanta anuraidh. Tharla sé sin. Cuireadh fáilte roimh an reachtaíocht ag an am céanna is a cuireadh fáilte roimh an comhaontú. Tá sé réidh le dul anois. Táimid ag amharc ar bac polaitiúil. Níl aon leithscéal eile chun cur síos a dhéanamh ar an moill atá ann faoi láthair. Creidimid nuair atá bac polaitiúil ann go bhfuil brú polaitiúil de dhíth chun é sin a réiteach.
Yes, we believe there is a political barrier now to getting the legislation through the Assembly and the Executive. During the negotiations and the talks that led up to the 2020 New Decade, New Approach agreement, we were very clear that the legislation had to be predetermined because our faith and trust, after three public consultations and about 15 years of going round the houses to get legislation through was always going to be a struggle so we wanted the legislation pre-agreed, we wanted it published and that happened. The legislation was published the same night as Mr. Julian Smith MP and the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Simon Coveney, stood outside Stormont and delivered the New Decade, New Approach agreement. We are, therefore, very clear that the legislation that has been published must go through as soon as possible but there does seem to be that political barrier and where there is a political barrier there needs to be political pressure. Thus the motion we are asking the committee to pass today is to apply pressure on the two joint authors of that agreement, namely, the Irish Government and the British Government and then also the Executive office which ultimately has to make the final call in triggering the legislation and getting it moving. The three parties I listed all have a stake in getting this over the line and it must happen as soon as possible.
Glaoim ar Theachta ó Shinn Féin. Gabh mo leithscéal, ba mhaith leis an Seanadóir Emer Currie labhairt anois. You want to speak now, sorry, excuse me. The Sinn Féin members have no objection so that is fine. I apologise to the Senator, I am just trying to handle everybody fairly.
It is a source of embarrassment to me that my Irish is not better. I grew up in County Tyrone until the age of 12 years and did my first year of Irish at grammar school in the convent at Donaghmore. When I moved to Dublin, I fell between two stools. I have been saying for years that I need to find the time to brush up on my Irish. Even if it were basic that would be better. It is something I intend to work on, if I can find more hours in the day.
It is brilliant to be here. It is a source of sadness that we are having this conversation and that there has been such delay around this legislation. I do not think we should politicise Irish or any language. I have never really understood how we can have language acts for other jurisdictions and not for the Irish language. There is nothing to be afraid of in this legislation, nothing to fear. As the representatives from Conradh na Gaeilge have said, it is not radical legislation; it is a reflection of the arduous journey we have all been on to get to this point and we just need to get it over the line. It will be a huge relief to me, and I think to most people, when that is achieved.
I wish to give the representatives of Conradh na Gaeilge my support. I am in favour of seeing this through. I understand the situation around Covid but the 100-days commitment is there and we must ensure it is delivered on. It took a huge amount of work by Conradh na Gaeilge and by everyone to get to this point and we need to see it through. I thank them for that work and look forward to everybody else's contributions.
Gabhaim buíochas as an gcur i láthair ar maidin. Tréaslaím leis an méid atá ráite ag uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge ar maidin. Tá práinn ann ó thaobh na reachtaíochta seo. Ní hamháin go bhfuil sé comhaontaithe ag an dá Rialtas agus ag na páirtithe ó Thuaidh, ach tá sé de dhíth ag an bpobal agus ag daoine atá ag iarraidh agus i dteideal cearta a bheith acu chun nithe a dhéanamh trí mheán na Gaeilge.
I dtaca leis an moladh atá leagtha os ár gcomhair ón gconradh ar maidin, sílim gur féidir linn go léir tacú leis an méid sin. Ba cheart dúinn scríobh chuig na hAirí cuí thar cheann an Chomhchoiste um Fhorfheidhmiú Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta. Seo ábhar den chomhaontú nach bhfuil curtha i bhfeidhm go fóill so ba cheart go mbeadh sin mar ábhar imní dúinne agus mar thosaíocht inár gcuid oibre ag dul chun tosaigh.
Cé go bhfuil neart dul chun cinn déanta agus tiomáinte ag an phobal i dtaca le cúrsaí Gaeilge ó Thuaidh, ba mhaith liom moladh a dhéanamh. Agus muid i lár Seachtaine na Gaeilge – agus déanaim comhghairdeas le Conradh na Gaeilge arís as an imeacht a eagrú sna coinníollacha atá ann faoi láthair - tá sé tábhachtach nach bhfuilimid ag plé cúrsaí Gaeilge le linn Seachtaine na Gaeilge amháin. Ba cheart go mbeadh muid ag cluinstin faoi chúrsaí Gaeilge agus ó phobal labhartha na Gaeilge i bhfad níos minice ná sin. B’fhiú dúinn mar choiste píosa oibre a chur ar bun chun idirghníomhú a dhéanamh tríd an chonradh agus tríd an Dream Dearg leis an phobal sna Sé Contae. Ba cheart dúinn idirghníomhú a dhéanamh leis na grúpaí eile amuigh ansin atá ar chomhchéim agus ar chomhthoil linne ar fad go bhfuil an tAcht agus an reachtaíocht sin de dhíth.
Tréaslaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an chonradh ar maidin. Tá an comhthoil sin ann san Oireachtas i dtaca le cur i bhfeidhm New Decade, New Approach agus na comhaontaithe eile. Tá orainn an comhthoil sin a choinneáil agus a neartú arís inniu ón chruinniú agus ón choiste seo.
For the benefit of my colleagues who are online, I would say there is a lot for me in what the president of Conradh na Gaeilge said this morning, as someone who is a very proud member of the Irish language community in the North and who wants to see, and ultimately to avail of, the rights and entitlements that this legislation seeks to bring. As we move forward, and this is a clear priority for the community, it is important that there is an opportunity for the committee to continue to engage with Conradh na Gaeilge and with other Irish language groups and organisations about their experiences and why this legislation is so important. It allows us to deal with this issue outside the realm of the very welcome and very important Seachtain na Gaeilge events going forward.
In terms of the work suggested for us today by Conradh na Gaeilge, it is very important that we take that forward. Maybe we would even take it beyond writing to the various Ministers and that we, as a committee, would seek to engage with them on the real urgency of this agreed legislation and why it needs to be brought into effect.
Aontaím go mór leis na tuairimí a nocht an Seanadóir ansin. Ar mhaith le haon chomhalta eile ó Shinn Féin aon rud eile a rá?
I appreciate the points the Senator makes and their thrust is very important. There is a technical problem but that need not worry us. If we have to pass a motion, in theory we technically need to have three days' notice from a member. However, if we go with the spirit of what we are saying, and if we can have a meeting next week and put that down, we can take up the issues in the interim. We should look for active involvement and participation with the political systems and the Government here and in the North to push this forward immediately in the interim in order to find a way to break that impasse. Clearly, if there is a political problem, it has to be addressed politically, and we should articulate and support changing that in any way we can.
Gabhaim buíochas leis an Chathaoirleach as an chomhairle sin.
I thank the Chairman for his guidance in that regard. The motion is worth looking at and I think it is worth members' consideration. I take the Chairman's guidance in regard to it. The suggestion is that the committee would write and I think we could agree that fairly rapidly.
The problem we have is purely technical. There is no problem with writing. We can write and say that following our meeting today, we are extremely concerned at the lack of progress on this issue. We can then put down the motion, technically, and I can get the clerk's opinion on that. It is only a technicality.
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
I thank the Deputy for the question. Gabhaim buíochas leis an Teachta as an cheist. I thank the Deputy for the question. Baineann an Bille seo go sonrach le hOifig an Fheidhmeannais agus táimid ag iarraidh dul i bhfeidhm uirthi chun go ndéanfaidh sí beart de réir a briathar. Tá codanna áirithe den chomhaontú a bhaineann, mar shampla, leis an Aire Airgeadais agus baineann an straitéis Ghaeilge leis an Aire Pobal. Tá tromlach na reachtaíochta agus b'fhéidir na píosaí is tábhachtaí den reachtaíocht ag baint le hOifig an Fheidhmeannais.
To answer that, the legislation is under the Executive office of the First Minister and deputy First Minister. There are other parts of the agreement that would fall, for example, issues around legislating for births, deaths and marriages, around the Minister of Finance and around the Irish language strategy following the remit of the Minister for Communities. Definitely, the passage of the legislation through the Assembly and the Executive cannot go anywhere until the Executive office and the First Minister and deputy First Minister get that going. That is really where the pressure needs to be applied to get this up and moving.
Sin cheist mhaith thábhachtach. I do not want to be rude to the next speaker but I want people online to know that we are conscious of them being present and their wish to speak. I ask the clerk to tell me if anybody online wishes to speak because I cannot see them. I know they will understand that. I call Deputy Rose Conway-Walsh.
Níl ach cúpla focal Gaeilge briste agam. The wider question, and I have always asked this question, is how we have so many children going through schools here at national and second level who still do not have fluent Gaeilge at the end of 13 or 14 years of education. We need to examine that.
Today's session is very useful and timely. It is timely in the sense that we discussed New Decade, New Approach in the Dáil last week and there was consensus across what needs to be done in terms of the implementation of the outstanding elements of that. It is very important to have the cross-party agreement on that. The asks here today are extremely clear, and I think everybody listening to this will understand the urgency of having those asks implemented as quickly as possible. Certainly, for my part and that of my party, we will do everything we can from this House to ensure, given we are co-guarantor of the Good Friday Agreement and Acht na Gaeilge is the cornerstone of the St. Andrew's Agreement and the New Decade, New Approach agreement, that the obligations are implemented. This committee can play a key role and I look forward to working on that basis.
Mr. John Finucane:
I thank Conradh na Gaeilge for the presentation. I reiterate the importance of this. It extends beyond the Irish language. I do not think this committee needs to have the politics rehearsed but it is worth people and members having that in their minds today.
In north Belfast, we have, in my very biased opinion, one of the best Irish language success stories with Gaelscoil Éanna. Twenty years ago, my son was one of the first of eight pupils who were put together to form a naíscoil.
Twenty years later, as he is getting ready to go to university, the school is oversubscribed. It is another example, if one was needed, of how much the language is flourishing, not just in north Belfast and the rest of Belfast but across the Six Counties. Such has been the growth in numbers that Coláiste Feirste will, I hope, get its second campus in north Belfast so that we can provide that platform for those who wish to carry on their secondary education in north Belfast through the medium of Irish.
This issue goes to the heart of faith and trust in previous agreements. The St. Andrews Agreement was referenced as was New Decade, New Approach. With respect, this is not just another issue whereby we have a group before us today that is lobbying. This is something the committee needs to take very seriously. In respect of the representatives of Conradh na Gaeilge, how important is this for those children with whom they and I marched in Belfast city centre? What is their personal sense of how important the implementation of this agreement is for those children who continue to be taught through the medium of Irish, those parents who send their children to Irish medium schools and those who want the same rights as everybody else across these islands? It is important that the committee gets that personal sense from those with whom Conradh na Gaeilge talk on a daily basis as to how important this remains as an issue and a litmus test as we go forward.
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
Sílim go raibh Conchúr Ó Muadaigh ag iarraidh an cheist sin ach níl a fhuaim ag obair. I think Mr. Ó Muadaigh is looking to answer that question but I do not think his sound is coming through. To pick up on what Mr. Finucane said, of course, the An Dream Dearg campaign and the campaign for an Irish language Act were among the real high points of social organising in the North since 2016. When we look at the demographics of those campaigns, we can see that this really was a grassroots community-led revival that tried to drive its own issue to the heart of the political discourse. It succeeded after being pushed to the margins for so long and having been disenfranchised by this roundabout, where we have an agreement followed by a lack of implementation and then another agreement followed by a lack of implementation, and by going round the houses and having public consultation after public consultation, draft Bill after draft Bill and proposals blocked and blocked again. This really was a road to nowhere until the An Dream Dearg campaign took it by the scruff of the neck. Everything seemed to change in 2017 when we succeeded in having a majority - a very historic majority - in the new assembly for the first time for Irish language rights. Obviously, given the cross-community nature of the assembly, we were unable to get that through.
In terms of the impact of this legislation on communities and the strategy, this is about young people being afforded the same rights as their Celtic counterparts in Wales, Scotland or indeed in the South. We are the only jurisdiction anywhere in these islands that does not afford legislative protection for our native language. This is outrageous in 2021, 23 years after the Good Friday Agreement that was supposed to herald a new era of equality. It is hugely disappointing and frustrating for the generations of schoolchildren who are coming through Irish medium schools, many of which are inadequate and in accommodation that is not good enough. Much of the progress mentioned by Mr. Finucane happened in spite of the state and in spite of legislation. Communities have had to do that themselves. They have had to shake buckets, collect money and build schools. This has not been done without a struggle and those communities need to be applauded and commended for the work they have done to keep the Irish language going in their own communities and schools. This legislation is supposed to protect them first and foremost. It is supposed to take their language, schools and community centres out of the hands of political attacks, insulate them legally and give them a framework through which we can avail of services from the state. It is mediocre legislation. It is a starting point. We want to strengthen it. We want to be in a place five or ten years down the line where the same rights are afforded to us as to Welsh-speaking children in Wales. We are not there yet - we are not even close - but it is an historic moment. The most pressing point is getting this over the line so we can let the language commissioner come in, get this moving and working, see how it works and point out how fragile it may be in certain places.
One of the main problems we foresee is that rather than removing the language from that sort of vexed confrontational party political environment in which the language sometimes get bogged down, it re-embeds it because it re-embeds the legislation into the office of First Minister and Deputy First Minister, which is essentially a political veto over some of the works of the language commissioner. We are very keen to get this up and running. We are very keen to let those children see the impact of the changes they fought to bring about. Hopefully, that can happen as soon as possible because people are getting hugely frustrated. As I said, we are going down the road of a complete crisis of confidence in agreements so this could just be another agreement that is never implemented and we will be back here in five years arguing about the same thing.
Teastaíonn uaidh Dr. Niall Comer as Conradh na Gaeilge freagra a thabhairt ar an gceist sin. Sula thosaíonn sé, is iad na daoine eile atá ag lorg cead cainte ina dhiaidh ná an Seanadóir Rónán Mullen, Dr. Stephen Farry MP, agus an Seanadóir Frances Black.
Dr. Niall Comer:
Ba mhaith liom freagra a thabhairt ar Mr. Finucane agus cur leis beagáinín. In answer to Mr. Finucane, I support the answer given by Dr. Ó Tiarnaigh. Mr. Finucane mentioned that his eldest son is now 20 and is preparing to go to university. He referred to the journey in north Belfast. We can empathise with that. In particular, I can empathise with that because I have a daughter of the same age. In respect of when he started his journey with the Irish language and people's huge personal commitment to the language in the North, over decades, people have made very brave choices with very little support. When I grew up in Newry, there was a small number of Irish language speakers who kept the language to the forefront but there was not even a question of there being any legislative support at the time and it was something we could only dream of. It is only in recent years that there has been a sense within the Irish language speaking community that this is possible and is something we can achieve with the correct political pressure.
I must pay tribute to the support from the Department for Communities and others for different initiatives to promote the language. We talk about language rights and the future protection and promotion of the language. We must also look at the reasons why the language found itself in that situation as a minority language. There are many reasons but one of the main reasons was the removal of the language from any political sphere or legislative area. This can be traced back centuries but it can also be traced back decades. I support the points made by Mr. Finucane about a journey. Hearts and minds and enthusiasm for the language are great and people can champion that but it involves us reaching a stage where people can live their lives through the language they choose, which is like every other right. People have the right to choose the language they speak, particularly an indigenous language that should have official recognition. This is not a pastime or part-time pursuit. It is vital that this is finally nailed and put to bed and as Dr. Ó Tiarnaigh correctly pointed out, the legislation is there. It is still not sufficient but it is a starting point and is something on which we can build.
I thank everyone for their contributions to this so far. This is a very important debate, particularly given what was mentioned by Senator Ó Donnghaile, namely, the urgency of putting this forward. Tá sé sin fíorthábhactach ar fad. That is very important. This is something we cannot delay any more.
Bail ó Dhia oraibh go léir agus guím Seachtain na Gaeilge faoi mhaise oraibh. Tugaim faoi deara an méid a dúirt Julian ag an tús faoi cé chomh práinneach agus atá an dul chun cinn maidir leis an reachtaíocht seo. Bhí mé éisteacht leis an gcaint ar fad agus tá mé ag iarraidh a chíoradh cad iad na constaicí? Cén fáth go bhfuil na bacanna uilig ann agus go bhfuilimid ag fanacht chomh fada seo le dul chun cinn maidir le buanú agus cur chun cinn cearta lucht na Gaeilge? Tugadh gealltanais i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta, arís i gComhaontú Naomh Aindriú agus ansin sa doiciméid Ré Nua, Cur Chuige Nua. An é gur bac polaitiúil a bhaineann leis an deighilt sa tír idir náisiúnaithe agus aontachtaithe atá ann? Ag an am céanna, feicimid ag an taobh seo den tír freisin cé chomh faillíoch agus cé chomh lochtach agus atá an dul chun cinn oifigiúil agus praiticiúil maidir le cearta mhuintir na Gaeilge a chur chun cinn.
Ba bhreá liom fiafraí dár n-aíonna cad iad na príomhbhuntáistí a bhaineann leis an reachtaíocht seo. Cad é an difríocht praiticiúil a dhéanann sé? I notice what Mr. de Spáinn said about how urgent it is that we get this legislation. I would like him to take us through what real advantages we can hope for from this legislation. Thinking about the constant delays and obstacles in getting progress from the Good Friday Agreement, the St. Andrews Agreement and New Decade, New Approach, is this political or about the reluctance of unionists? We spoke at this committee last week about the fact that we are rather one-sided as a committee and do not have that buy-in to the work of this committee. When I look at how inadequate, inconsistent and sometimes insincere the political and official commitment to the promotion and the defence of the rights of Irish language speakers here in the South is, I wonder if it is only about political reluctance rooted in the constitutional question. I know that is a little open but I am interested in what people have to say on it.
Mr. Julian de Spáinn:
Tabharfaidh mé roinnt freagraí don Seanadóir Mullen agus b’fhéidir go mbeidh Pádraig nó Niall ag iarraidh teacht isteach. An rud is bunúsaí a táimid ag breathnú air anseo – agus luadh é ag Eimear, Niall agus duine nó beirt eile – ná nach bhfuilimid ag lorg rud éigin nach bhfuil ar fáil ar na hoileáin seo ar fad. Rinne Pádraig an-cur síos ar chúrsaí sa Bhreatain Beag, in Albain agus ó Dheas in Éirinn. Tá cosaintí sna tíortha sin don teanga agus don duine atá ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a úsáid. We have protections, services and means of using the language officially on the islands, apart from in the North of Ireland. That is essentially what we want to do. For young people learning or interested in the language, who may not have the hang-ups of the past, caithfear a chur in iúl dóibh agus a chur trasna dóibh go bhfuil stádas ann ag an teanga. The first thing is status for the language so that it is official and they can officially use it. The legislation will help with status and with service provision.
The second part of céard atá ag taisteál uainn and what we are looking for is the strategy. The strategy will be key in providing those services and promoting the language more in the future. That needs to be taken on board as well. It is not just a matter of legislation but strategy too. We have strategies to promote Irish in the South as is done for Welsh in Wales. Wales has a target to meet 1 million speakers at present. One can see proactive and worthwhile things happening. Young people are enthused about the language. The authorities, young people and schools are all working together to promote the language and making sure that everybody who wants to use the language gets an opportunity to. In the North at the moment, there is no official recognition with the legislation and there is no strategy, but both have been promised for over 15 years. One can imagine why anybody in the community, atá ar scoil nó atá ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge a úsáid, can become cynical about the operation of politics when that cannot be achieved after 15 years of promise. They see, again and again, na tíortha eile ag dul chun cinn, the other countries moving forward while they are being left behind. Sin an rud a táimid ag iarraidh a bhaint amach leis seo.
Dr. Niall Comer:
I will answer that briefly and address another point. Chuir an Seanadóir Mullen ceist an-tábhachtach ar fad agus d’ardaigh sé pointí tábhachtacha riachtanacha. We should also mention the point about, unfortunately, the politicisation of the language by opponents of the language. That has to be mentioned, whether it is an elephant in the room or not. Accusations of politicisation may well be true but it has been largely been done by those opponents to Irish language legislation who see this as submission or giving in to something. We know that this is not the case. Those who are supportive of Irish language legislation have presented, ad nauseam,the benefits of this and shown the benefits not only of Irish-medium legislation but also the benefits of bilingualism and the cognitive benefits of raising children in a bilingual society. All of this is research-based. I refer back to the idea of hearts and minds and part-time language. We have moved on from this to an approach which explains clearly the need for legislation etc. Unfortunately, there is still work to be done to break down the barriers that people have regarding the language and over-politicisation of the language by opponents of Irish language legislation.
Dr. Stephen Farry:
Go raibh maith agat. I am not a native speaker of the Irish language and my knowledge is limited. I had a go in my maiden speech in the House of Commons. I used that primarily as a platform to stress the point that the Irish language is very much part of a shared heritage on the island of Ireland, cutting across a range of different traditions. It is important that we constantly acknowledge and recognise that. In doing so, it is important to pay tribute to people like Linda Ervine who are raising the profile of the language in non-traditional communities. That is playing an important role in trying to break down barriers and overcoming some preconceptions about the language.
I want to comment on the politics of what happens with taking this forward and ask our guests to maybe respond to some of this. I am conscious that we have the New Decade, New Approach agreement. I may not have agreed with everything that Conradh na Gaeilge proposed about the content but it was a difficult negotiation over a two or three-year period. Thankfully we reached a positive outcome. As we meet today, in March 2021, it is over a year since New Decade, New Approach was agreed.
There is only about a year left in the current term of the Northern Ireland Assembly, after which there will be elections. No legislation has gone to the Northern Ireland Executive at this stage, as far as I am aware. In practice, therefore, there is less than a year in which to legislate to take this forward. I appreciate that people are somewhat frustrated over some aspects of what was agreed or not agreed last year but it is important that we stay true to what was agreed and that all parties operate on the basis of faithfully translating New Decade, New Approach into legislation - nothing more and nothing less - given that it was very difficult to strike a balance. I am very fearful, especially with an election coming up and with the very febrile nature of politics in Northern Ireland, that attempts will be made to unpick what was agreed. The flip side of the coin, therefore, has to be that there will be no attempts to add anything to the legislation beyond what was agreed in New Decade, New Approach. The best way to get it on the Statute Book is to play with a very straight bat, to use an English analogy. In that way, anyone trying to unpick it can be called out. From a practical point of view, I urge both caution and the approach I recommend. That is the best way to take it forward.
I assure members that while my party might have taken a slightly different approach from others on certain aspects in the negotiations, it will faithfully honour and see through exactly what was agreed last January.
I thank Dr. Farry for that important contribution. What he said was important. It reflects everybody's concern, as expressed by all of us, to the effect that we would like to see this matter resolved by consensus on an agreement that has already been signed off on by all parties.
Tá brón orm mar nach bhfuil mórán Ghaeilge agam. Tá náire orm. Again, tá an-bhrón orm. I thank all the witnesses for their presentations. They were fascinating to me and very refreshing. It was wonderful to hear Irish spoken this morning. It was music to my ears.
My story is that my father came from Rathlin Island, and his grandfather was a fluent Irish speaker. I believe Gaeilge was his first language. Unfortunately, my grandmother insisted that her children not speak Irish because there was a lot of fear. I often wonder whether some form of intergenerational trauma was handed down to me. I intend, however, to learn Irish and go to the Gaeltacht when the lockdown is over. In fact, I have already booked.
I fully support what is happening today. As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I believe it is essential and appropriate for us to fulfil the delegates' request to write to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. He is a co-signatory. The implementation of the Irish Language Act is not only a symbolic and historic step in promoting a progressive and inclusive Ireland but it will also implement outstanding mechanisms needed for true power-sharing in the North. The delegates would like us to write to the Minister. Is there any other role that we can play, as a committee, to oversee the implementation of the agreement?
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
I want to pick up on one of the points Dr. Farry made before addressing Senator Black's question. We are not going to be seeking to strengthen the legislation between now and getting it through. We have seen the hard work that went into getting it to where it is at. We are very aware that if there is an opportunity to strengthen the predefined legislation, there will also be an opportunity to weaken it. The aim of the negotiations was to pre-agree and predefine legislation, get it into an agreement and get it on the Statute Book. We are now in a phase in which we are seeking to get exactly what was agreed, for all its foreseeable worth and problems. Submissions from the human rights commission and others would point out many of the problems with the legislation. As we said, it is far from perfect but it is a foundation. We are accepting it in the spirit that it is something we will very much seek to build on in the coming years and decades. Let us get it into the Statute Book now, however. Let us get it operating and moving. What will happen in practice is that the big bad bogeyman that was promised will not appear and the sky will not fall in. Everyone will not have to speak Irish overnight. We are going to see very mediocre legislation making some quite necessary changes in normal people's lives. For those who wish to use the Irish language, it will be meaningful and a step forward. Members can have our word that we are very much on board to get what was promised onto the books. That is very much our strategy as we sit here talking to members today.
I thank Senator Black, as always, for her support for our campaign. Ar na rudaí a dúirt sí, our focus at the minute is very much on getting the language legislation and the strategy over the line. As Mr. de Spáinn rightly pointed out, while the legislation offers legal insulation, the strategy is almost every bit as important. It may not carry the sound bite of the Irish language Act that made the radio headlines but, whereas the legislation gives the legal framework, the strategy provides for the civic and societal interventions allowing people, including families and young people, to use the Irish language in their lives when they choose to do so.
We are going to place great emphasis on devising a very strong, practical and useful Irish language strategy. It is currently in a co-design process involving the Department for Communities. We are on the expert panel in that regard but, unfortunately, we are very clearly bound to a timeframe of six months in dealing with the New Decade, New Approach agreement. Potentially, that strategy might not be ready until Christmas. If anyone at this meeting believes a strong Irish language strategy is going to have a chance of getting through an executive three or four months before an election, we are going to have problems. Therefore, it is very much in our interest to start fast-tracking some of this work. If it was possible last year to do this within 100 days in six months, it is possible now to do it within 100 days in six months. I very much urge that the promises made be honoured in this spirit on the premises where they were made. It is worth reminding every member of the committee that although we lobbied all parties very heavily and met all parties on this, New Decade, New Approach was signed up to by everyone in the Executive. That Executive is sitting on the basis or foundation of that agreement. While there may have been political opposition to this before, it is now time that all the parties who signed up to the agreement and agreed very clearly and specifically to the legislation took ownership of it. The Irish language belongs to everyone who wishes to use it and to everyone who signed up to the agreement. It is time for everyone to claim ownership of it and get it moving together. If we are truly sincere about building a place that is shared and respectful and open to tolerance, diversity and reconciliation, the Irish language has to play part in that. Twenty-three years after the Good Friday Agreement, we have to move into a space where agreements like the one under discussion can be moved forward without further delay. I hope that answers some of the points of Dr. Farry and Senator Black.
I thank everyone. This has been really interesting. There is a lot to learn to gain an understanding of this area. I ask everyone to bear with me as I speak my pidgin Irish. I will do my best.
I have two questions. We have talked a lot about their subject matter already. One of them relates to how the communities themselves feel.
Conas a bhraitheann an pobal nuair a fheiceann sé go bhfuil moill arís agus arís eile ar na gealltanais a tugadh i gComhaontú Chill Rímhinn i 2006 maidir le reachtaíocht don Ghaeilge straitéis don Ghaeilge agus cúig bliana dhéag ina dhiaidh sin níl ceachtar acu sin ann fós, cé gur gealladh an dá rud arís sa chomhaontú ar Ré Nua, Cur Chuige Nua i 2020? Cad ba cheart do Rialtas na hÉireann a dhéanamh chun cinntiú go gcomhlíontar na gealltanais seo faoi dheireadh? I probably jumbled them up a bit. I did my best. What is the community response to this? Witnesses have given a flavour of that already. Are there frustrations? What can the Irish Government do? Senator Black asked what can we do but what is it that the Irish Government needs to do to move this forward? It has been a long time, 15 years. What are the concise things the Government can do?
Dr. Niall Comer:
An-deas an cheist sin a chur agus arís, is ceist an-tábhachtach ar fad í. It is an important question because the demand and need for legislation has come from the Irish language community and the broader community. I think it is important we assess the reaction of that community to legislation that has not been fully implemented or has not been, in some cases, implemented at all. The first word is there is quite a lot of frustration among the Irish language community. That frustration can be seen not just in the North. We see aspects of Irish language legislation that should be implemented in the South that are not fully implemented. There is a sense of frustration and of being promised certain things for want of votes during election campaigns etc. There is still a level of cynicism within the community.
It makes us feel to a large extent like second-class citizens in our own country. That is important. No citizen of Ireland should feel that way because he or she speaks the national language of the country. Bear in mind that the Irish language should have official recognition in the North under the New Decade, New Approach agreement. That is unthinkable. When this is explained to, for example, journalists from other countries, they are aghast and have a sense that it is ludicrous that this should be the case. There is frustration and, in many cases, anger.
We are aware that neither the New Decade, New Approach deal nor the legislation promised previously are perfect but it is a start. There is a feeling in the Irish language community that we have pushed the door open and are moving to a position to further this. This is where support from the Irish Government is key. The Good Friday Agreement was signed by both Governments and is an international agreement. Therefore, it is incumbent on all signatories to play their part. Instead of shying away from the provisions within the agreement, the Irish Government should be proactive in seeking this out. We should not tiptoe around the issue. While there is no question but that there will be political opposition, that should not stop the Government from pursuing this and from challenging the prejudices that exist against the language. Many of these prejudices come from an absolute lack of education. I hope that answers the Senator's question. It is an important question but frustrachas and frustration is the main thing.
We have a big problem. I am trying to deal with it quietly. We have two members of the committee who are Members of the Oireachtas. They cannot speak here because they are not in the Houses. That is the problem I have. It is a reference to the Constitution I have been given which states that if an Oireachtas Member is not in the precincts, he or she cannot contribute, even though those who are not Members of the Oireachtas are welcome and willing to contribute from their offices or outside the precincts. It is a ruling I have in front of me and it is a difficulty because I would love to hear what they have to say, as I am sure everybody would. Article 15 of the Constitutions says that we can "sit in or near the City of Dublin or in such ... place as they may from time to time determine". The unambiguous meaning is that hearings must be conducted in a place chosen by both Houses and that Members of the Oireachtas are obliged to be present in the precincts to participate in the meeting.
It is high time that constitutional provision was changed because it makes an ass of our proceedings. I apologise but that is the ruling I have been given and which I have to follow in terms of Standing Orders, even though I do not like it. I suggest that, separate from this meeting, we collectively request from the Ceann Comhairle and the Government that they change this. It will take constitutional change but in this case it does not make sense. I apologise to members that that is the situation. We will start a second round má tá daoine eile chun labhairt.
Cúpla focal uaimse, a Chathaoirligh. Ar an gcéad dul síos, táimid buíoch díot, a Chathaoirligh, as ucht an cruinniú tábhachtach seo. Bhí daoine ag caint cheana mar gheall ar na scoileanna. Bhí mé ag caint freisin ar ról tábhachtach na mbunscoileanna agus na meánscoileanna. Creidim freisin i dteannta na bhforbairtí iontacha sin go bhfuil gá le tacaíochtaí cearta chun an Ghaeilge a chur chun cinn i measc an phobail ar fad ionas go mbainfidh gach aois grúpa tairbhe as. Ba cheart go mbeadh an cúnamh seo ar fáil do gach uile dhuine ar gach leibhéal chun líofacht sa Ghaeilge a bhaint amach. Beidh toradh iontach againn má chuireann muid an Ghaeilge, ár gcéad theanga atá ina teanga shaibhir, chun cinn. Déanfaidh muid an todhchaí a fheabhsú agus a shaibhriú. Gabhaim mo mhíle buíochas leis na speakers atá linn ar maidin i Seachtain na Gaeilge.
Mr. Paul Maskey:
I get the sense, listening to Conradh na Gaeilge today, of frustration that the legislation has not been enacted yet. We all share that frustration. The lobbying part of it and this meeting today are an important aspect of all of that. Conradh na Gaeilge has been to the fore in lobbying parties in recent times and over the last number of years. I think they were in Westminster as well. Regarding the lobbying aspect, will there be a ramp-up? I take it Covid is restricting what can be done but it is very important. At the Westminster events Conradh na Gaeilge did in the past, it always got a good hearing and it has gained understanding from other parties across the water in Britain. Is there a sense of what else Conradh na Gaeilge can be doing with regards to lobbying? We know what we need to do as committees and governments need to know what they need to do. What does Conradh na Gaeilge's campaign look like in the time ahead with regard to trying to get this legislation implemented?
Dr. Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh:
Gabhaim buíochas le Mr. Maskey, MP, as an cheist thábhachtach sin. I thank him for that question. I suppose Mr. Maskey, MP, put his finger on it when he said we are a bit hamstrung with Covid. We have to be aware that it would be irresponsible for us to take 10,000 people into the centre of Belfast for an Irish language march. As much as I would like to do that and as much as we are raring to go, and we believe the community would support it, now is not the time for that sort of activism or for organising around that. That does not mean we cannot be creative in what else we do. We have sought meetings with the Northern Ireland Office, NIO, to advocate. Through the Secretary of State, Mr. Brandon Lewis, MP, we will be meeting with the Minister of State, Mr. Walker, from the NIO in the coming weeks. We will definitely be looking to move this campaign to Westminster as well.
One of the important things we have not mentioned here in terms of the legal framework behind this is that not only is there the Good Friday Agreement, St. Andrews Agreement and New Decade/New Approach, but, in 2001, the British Government signed the European Charter for Regional Minority Languages for Irish in the North. COMEX, which is the committee of experts from the Council of Europe that oversees the implementation of that charter, conducts monitoring rounds on how each member states is implementing its obligations. Systematically, one can be sure it will be hugely critical of the British Government regarding the implementation of the Irish language part of its obligations in terms of the European charter. Most recently, in January, COMEX released its fifth monitoring report which made strong recommendations to bring forward a strong Irish language policy, legislation and strategy. When COMEX seeks a response from the British Government, usually what we get is a blank page on the Irish language. Where the British Government's report for Welsh, for Gallic in Scotland and for Cornish, Manx and other regional minority languages could span to ten, 15, 20 or 25 pages, we do not even get as much as two paragraphs.
It would be remiss of us not to say there are extra duties and commitments that are outstanding that tie in to the Good Friday Agreement, and not only the European Charter but the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. There is a host of legislation and commitments here that are outstanding. To be honest, it is hugely frustrating because one constantly feels, from week to week, one is being shafted, one is being treated, as Dr. Comer said, as second-class citizens, and one is being treated with total disrespect in terms of how Welsh speakers and Scots speakers are treated. We will be moving that campaign forward and bringing those issues to the various stakeholders, whether in Westminster or back to Irish Government. We will continue our ongoing lobbying with the Executive office and with various Ministers within the Executive. We have commitments regarding signage and we have an ask around Irish language signage that comes from the European Charter. We will bring that to the infrastructure Minister.
Part of the New Decade/New Approach was around the repeal of the final penal law in Ireland, the 1737 justice Act which bans Irish speakers from using Irish in the courts. It is shocking to think that here we are in 2021 and there is a penal law banning me from using Irish in court. We will have a justice Minister - I am sure Dr. Farry, MP, is listening - who we could lobby. We would not have to wait on the New Decade/New Approach legislation going through to repeal the 1737 justice Act. There is plenty we can be getting on with but, definitely, the main part of our work is getting the legislation on the books and getting a strong strategy through. We do not want a weak strategy that does not have any impact. We need to get the best possible provisions through to help an aspiring community reach its full potential here in the North.
Ms Órfhlaith Begley:
It is more to come in with a comment as opposed to a question and to place on record my sincere thanks to Conradh na Gaeilge for all the work it has done in recent years. I suppose "frustrating" is probably the word of the day in terms of us being back here discussing an Irish language Act which should have been implemented. Unfortunately, it has not been implemented to date.
It is important to recognise and to acknowledge that the Irish language belongs to everybody. It does not belong to one community. Everyone is free to speak the Irish language. It is part of our heritage and our culture.
We are increasingly seeing a shift in terms of the next generation. Perhaps that generation is not tied to the legacy of the past and just wants to speak the Irish language. It is very much attracted to it. We are seeing more and more people, even from the unionist community, wanting to speak and converse in the language today.
If I was to ask a question, it would be to find out what barriers are in place in terms of that engagement between Conradh na Gaeilge and the Irish and British Governments and the Executive and what we can do. I note a suggestion was put forward today and I very much support and endorse it. In terms of opening doors or getting that connection to ensure Conradh na Gaeilge has the ear of the Irish and British Governments and those Ministers within the Executive, what can we do as a committee to assist Conradh na Gaeilge? I note Conradh na Gaeilge has put forward a proposal today.
To follow-on from that, it would be helpful if we had these engagements on a more regular basis, that is, that we catch up with Conradh na Gaeilge on a regular basis as opposed to leaving it months and still being in the same situation we were in months previously. I put forward that proposal, namely, that there is more regular engagement between Conradh na Gaeilge and the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. These commitments have been made, and I refer not only the New Decade/New Approach but to commitments made as far back as the St. Andrews Agreement and the Good Friday Agreement. It seems that in some instances we are seeing a bit of progress, but we are still in the same situation today where we do not have the implementation of that Act. That is what we want to happen. We want to see those commitments delivered on. This committee has an obligation, as the Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, to ensure we do all we can to hear from Conradh na Gaeilge, as a key part of the Good Friday Agreement in terms of seeing the implementation of the Irish language. It is really about seeing what more we, as a committee, can do for Conradh na Gaeilge to support it in the time ahead.
I welcome the proposal put forward. Hopefully, we can have more regular engagement with Conradh na Gaeilge. Gabhaim míle buíochas le Conradh na Gaeilge for all the work it has done to date. It is very much appreciated by Irish language speakers right across the country.
Mr. Julian de Spáinn:
Gabhaim buíochas le hÓrfhlaith as a tacaíocht leanúnach. One thing I want to mention on that relates to what more we can do. We are in regular contact with various Ministers in the Northern Executive, trying to make sure that all that needs to be done in the background is done so that they can go ahead and pass the legislation. We believe we are at that point now. Anything the committee can do to bring this forward with the Executive to make sure it is put through would be helpful.
The second thing I mention is that we will be meeting with the Minister of State for Northern Ireland, Mr. Robin Walker, soon on this issue and we will be able to put that forward. We are looking for a meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Deputy Coveney. We met the Minister in the past and he has been very supportive. We would like to meet him again. Anything the committee can do to push that along would help.
Another thing I mention is what Dr. Ó Tiarnaigh mentioned about the strategy there. It is important to say these two items are ready to go. They are oven-ready i go leor bealaí. Tá siad réidh le dul. The reachtaíocht, the legislation, as we know, is there. Whatever faults we have with the legislation, we still want to see it put through now. It is important to say a strategy was put together and put to a previous Executive but it was not accepted. In essence, what one has is an oven-ready strategy ready to go. It needs to be tweaked and to be developed a bit because it was put together a few years ago. That can be done in the process that has been set up. There is no reason this should drag out. Níl aon fháth nach féidir seo a dhéanamh láithreach bonn. Ní gá dúinn fanacht. Tá an bunús ann. We have the basis of what is needed to move ahead with both the strategy and the legislation. It really comes down to the political will now to move this forward.
Go raibh maith agat. Forgive me for coming in at the last moment. I am not a member of the committee but I am very interested in this subject. I thank the witnesses for their very interesting contributions. It is incumbent on all of us to work together to make sure Conradh na Gaeilge gets that meeting with the Minister for Foreign Affairs. We see people from different cultural backgrounds embracing the Irish language. In north County Dublin, we have a diverse population and it has embraced the Irish language. That model can be seen right across the island.
I offer my support to all our guests in their work. My party and I are happy to do whatever we can to achieve the aims. We are here to help.
Senator Blaney, a member of the committee, has made a comment that he has asked me to read out on his behalf. He stated:
I welcome Conradh na Gaeilge here today. I strongly support their calls today but I feel we need to also recognise that the commitments in the three amending bills needed to be implemented in Stormont also includes provisions on protections for the Ulster Scots and Ulster British traditions. As a committee I believe we need to be inclusive of all elements of the amending bills. The Irish government are supportive as I understand it and I believe they are currently providing major funding in that regard. I would support an all inclusive motion which recognises all elements of what was agreed in the NDNA and thank you for a clear presentation.
Más mian le héinne freagra a thabhairt-----
Dr. Niall Comer:
Ba mhaith liom freagra gasta a thabhairt. I would like to address that briefly. Mo bhuíochas as an gceist a chur. I thank Senator Blaney for the question. I know we are not being accused of anything here but the question of the Ulster Scots and the Ulster British traditions has always been mentioned to us in these conversations. Our answer is that first and foremost, we welcome the implementation of New Decade, New Approach and all the provisions that have been made. This was done as an agreement and we have no objection to the other aspects of the agreement being implemented.
I reiterate that it is not the remit of Conradh na Gaeilge to push for other aspects of societal, political or cultural change. We are not a political party. Our job and remit is to promote the Irish language. Having said that, we have no issue with other minority languages or other cultural issues being promoted. Any amendment has to be all-inclusive. There is a push to implementing New Decade, New Approach, the Good Friday Agreement and so on, and everything that was agreed on should be implemented. It should not be cherry-picked in any way, but our fear is that cherry-picking may start. That is why it is vital that this be done now, so that it cannot be unpicked. I fully agree with Senator Blaney's sentiments on this.
Senator Blaney has responded. It is a pity he cannot talk directly to the committee, as Dr. Comer can. He has clarified the matter and there is no doubt from his perspective. Dr. Comer accepts that he was not accusing him of anything.
We all know that. As most members have made contributions, we will summarise where we will go from here. Molaim an méid atá ráite ag gach duine. Bhí Gaeilge bhinn bhlasta le cloisteáil anseo inniu, thuaidh, theas, thoir agus thiar. This has been an important event and it was important to listen to what our guests said. I do not think anything divides us on the matter as a committee.
As for the proposal that Conradh na Gaeilge has asked to be put before the committee, I am happy to sign it, as I think we all are. It must come from the membership. If there is consensus, we will sign the proposal before our next meeting, which is the due process we have to go through to effect a motion. It is clear we fully support every aspect of what has been said. The way forward is through using our influence with the Minister, Deputy Coveney, and through writing, as was suggested, to Mr. Brandon Lewis. There are different parties within the Northern Ireland Assembly and more needs to be done there. If we can facilitate resolving any differences or political barriers, we would be more than happy to address them as a committee. If everyone is happy, that is probably all we can do today, má tá daoine sásta leis sin.
Before we conclude, I want to explain something. We have received a significant level of correspondence that we cannot deal with in public session, and we cannot go into private session, given the way in which we are communicating here today. If it is in order, therefore, I propose that we hold a further meeting later this week to deal with the correspondence. Friday might be the best day on which to put the motion before the committee because we need to give three days' notice. Is that agreed? Agreed. If there is any reason we cannot do that, we will communicate that with members. I think the motion collectively supports what has been said during the meeting agus muid ag iarraidh an Ghaeilge agus úsáid na Gaeilge a bheith níos éasca do gach duine, Thuaidh agus Theas.