Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

12:00 pm

Photo of Dan BoyleDan Boyle (Cork South Central, Green Party)

Dúirt mé mo scéal san Teach i díospóireacht eile. Bhí mo athair as Gaeltacht na Rosann, as Oileán Arainn Mhór. Fíor-Gaelach a bhí sé. Tá mo mháthair as cathair Chorcaí ach rinne sí an scrúdú ardteistiméireachta trí Gaeilge. Rugadh mé sna Stáit Aontaithe agus bhí mé 18 nuair a tháinig mé agus mo chlann ar ais go dtí an tír seo. Sin é an scéal agus níl mé ábalta Gaeilge a labhairt i ceart.

I believe my story is similar to that of hundreds of thousands of people in this country. Outside the annual debate in this House, we must ask why Irish is taught as a language in our education system for 13 years yet not taught as a spoken language. Linguists know the ability to learn a language depends on living it in everyday situations. Our emphasis on grammar and strict diction has alienated many people in our society from their heritage and birthright. People would be more inclined to use Irish if greater encouragement was given and less compulsion existed.

Mythology is another factor that influences the state of the Irish language. Irish is associated with a certain way of life, a culture and a history. Those who have attempted to breathe life into the Irish language in recent years — TG4 must be especially acknowledged — have done so by bringing the use of Irish into a modern idiom to identify with young people in the way they live their everyday lives. Despite the success of TG4, that balance has not yet been achieved. There is still a feeling that the Irish language is associated with an identifiable person who is fíor Ghaelach in too many ways that are far from fíor and far from Gaelach.

As legislators we have particular problems in engaging in an annual debate mostly through the medium of Irish, but failing to have more regular debates. Constitutionally Irish is the pre-eminent language. I have to take a Private Members' Bill to the Bills office, having checked its veracity. As every Member of this House knows, the Bill is written in English and Irish. I could have taken it to people in the Green Party to check the Irish translation, but given the busy nature of most Deputies' lives, I am taking it on trust that the Bills Office got it right. If it went through a normal parliamentary procedure, which Private Members' Bills rarely do, I would hope that any errors might be corrected on Committee or Report Stage. It is to our loss as legislators that we are not able to communicate better in both languages so that we can debate more freely in the Irish language, understand our prime responsibility as legislators and identify any loopholes coming through the Irish text of each Bill we pass.

On those grounds the Oireachtas has tried several measures over recent years, none of which has been successful despite good intentions. Irish language classes are held fitfully each Dáil term but tend to break down after a number of weeks because Members do not have regular schedules that allow them to attend regularly. The Minister and his Department with the Ceann Comhairle, as head of the Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, might consider that in the supposed downtime when the House is not sitting, efforts be made to get Members to immerse themselves in an everyday living situation with the language. I am thinking of June to September when our work as legislators would be immeasurably helped if we spent one, two or three weeks in Gaeltacht areas improving our ability to speak as Gaeilge.

I apologise again for my inability to fully converse as Gaeilge. I am working on it and I thank TG4 journalists for their patience in recognising my inability to perform interviews live but giving me the opportunity to think of what I want to say and then say it, which they offer to many people in this House. Perhaps when this debate is held next year it will not be an annual event but part of the ongoing activity of the House, possibly in the 30th Dáil.


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