Dáil debates

Thursday, 30 March 2006

1:00 pm

Photo of Caoimhghín Ó CaoláinCaoimhghín Ó Caoláin (Cavan-Monaghan, Sinn Fein)

Cuirim fáilte roimh an deis seo chun na Gaeilge a phlé sa Dáil. Tá séíorónta go bhfuil an t-ábhar seo á phlé inniu, díreach tar éis fhoilsiú thuarascáil an Choimisinéara Teanga. Is tábhachtach an tuarascáil sin, agus molaim an Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, aisti. Tá scéal uafásach nochtaithe aige, scéal náireach don Státseirbhís. Is scannal é go bhfuil stádas na Gaeilge chomh híseal sin sa Státchóras anois go bhfuil an coimisinéir á rá gur cosúil go bhfuil Béarla éigeantach i bhfeidhm in áit na Gaeilge éigeantaí a bhíodh ann.

Tá Ranna ag diúltiú córas marcála a chur i bhfeidhm a thabharfadh marcanna breise d'iarrthóiri le cumas sa nGaeilge, agus níl sé sin inghlactha. Tá sé scannalach chomh maith nach bhfuil ach 3% den bhfoireann sa Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta in ann gnó a dhéanamh trí mheán na Gaeilge.

The report of the language commissioner is a damning indictment of the State's failure to vindicate the position of the Irish language within the Civil Service. The Department of Education and Science should be a lead Department in the promotion of the Irish language, yet we find that only 3% of staff are capable of doing business through the medium of Irish. That is not acceptable. The system which replaced the Irish language requirement in the Civil Service is not working. Departments are not awarding bonus marks to candidates for promotion on the basis of their ability to do business in both official languages. This is equally unacceptable and must change.

That said, we should look at the commissioner's report as an opportunity to put things right. There has been far too much negativity about the Irish language. Many Members, especially when based in Dublin during the course of the week, have free Dublin newspapers forced upon them at different points, either in traffic or as they make their way on foot to this institution. I could not credit the headline in today's Metro, the free Dublin news-sheet, which I subsequently noticed is published by an English company. While the paper reports the language commissioner's report reasonably accurately, it uses the alarming headline in bold type on the front page: "Irish does you no good at all." There must be an answer to that.

I want to put on record Sinn Féin's belief that the Irish language must remain at the core of the education system. For that reason and despite the arguments presented by my colleague, Deputy Deenihan, we are opposed to the Fine Gael proposal to remove our national language as a core subject for State exams. That is the road to further decline and marginalisation of Irish. What we certainly need at all levels of the education system is a further shift in emphasis towards Irish as a spoken language, a living language of the people, in the classroom, the schoolyard, the playing field, the home and workplace.

Speaking as a parent whose fifth child is now going through the gaelscoileanna experience, the transformation from my experience of going to school to my children's experience is stark, apparent and obvious. My children play with their young friends in a very natural way that is almost a rejoicing in their extra language skills. This is a far cry from the reality I knew myself. Part of the problem in implementing such reform is the over-reliance of our education system on written exams and on the points system which is a rat race dictated by the number of places available in third level colleges.

The tremendous energy and vibrancy of the Irish language community is seen in the gaelscoileanna movement — I speak of the Irish language community throughout the island of Ireland — in the language organisations and in the Irish language media from TG4 to to Foinse to local media. I pay tribute to local radio stations and the print media which accommodate and encourage the reportage of events and community-style noticing as Gaeilge. That energy and vibrancy needs to be matched in the public service, the business community, and the trade union and community sectors.

Only the Government can co-ordinate a national effort to create a bilingual society. There is no denying it is a huge task but there is a tremendous foundation of goodwill among the majority of our people, regardless of the regular trundling out of their position by the begrudgers and those of the west Briton view in regard to our language who continually attempt to denigrate Irish. I cite this morning's freebie as yet another example of that.

We have been talking about the Irish language community, which is distinct from the Gaeltacht and its communities. We should have a special debate on the Gaeltacht. There are significant issues to be addressed about the future of the Gaeltacht which cannot be adequately addressed in the context of short statements such as this on the overall language issue. Many issues need to be addressed and I urge an early debate as a follow-up to this one. Perhaps the Minister would facilitate this and ensure it takes place shortly.

I seek the Minister's and the Government's ongoing support for the rights of Irish language speakers and the growing Irish language speaking community north of the Border. We need to rachet that support up a little from the current level.

A legislative deficit exists on the matter of the Irish language north of the Border. So long as the current reality of two jurisdictions remains, we need to impress on the British Government the importance of ensuring legislative protection.

The Minister shows great goodwill, support and encouragement for the language. I encourage him to look beyond this jurisdiction and to exercise as much influence as he can and with his colleagues in Government in an effort to ensure that the British Government properly recognises and facilitates the growing development of the Irish language north of the Border.


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