Thursday, 18 November 2010
Straitéis 20 Bliain Don Ghaeilge: Ráitis
Brian O'Shea (Waterford, Labour)
Tá áthas orm labhairt sa díospóireacht thábhachtach seo mar gheall ar an tuarascáil a tháinig ó Chomhchoiste um Gnóthaí Turarsóireachta, Cultúir, Spóirt, Pobail, Comhionannais agus Gaeltachta ar an straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge.
Ba mhaith liom díriú ar roinnt de na moltaí; ní féidir dul trid na moltaí go léir i ndíospóireacht mar seo. An ceathrú moladh ná forbairt geilleagar agus bonneagar na Gaeltachta a fhágáil mar phríomhchúram Údarás na Gaeltachta, nó na Gaeilge, cibé acu a bheidh ann.
Labhair an tAire faoin sprioc atá ann go mbeidh ceathrú milliúin ag baint úsáid as an Ghaeilge ar bhonn dátheangach. Nuair a bunaíodh an Stát ní raibh Gaeltachtaí againn.
Bhí 250,000 sna ceantair sin agus iad ag labhairt na Gaeilge mar ghnáth teanga. Táim amhrasach maidir leis an figiúr a tháinig ón daonáireamh de 83,000 daoine a labhraíonn Gaeilge go laethúil. An cheist atá sa daonáireamh ná: "An bhfuil aon Ghaeilge agat?" Bheadh freagra amháin agamsa agus freagra eile ag daoine eile ar sin, mar níl muid ag tomhas an rud céanna. An rud is tábhachtaí faoin moladh a léigh mé amach ón tuarascáil ná go bhfuil an Ghaeltacht thar a bheith tábhachtach, mar is í an áit ina bhfuil an Ghaeilge beo. Ach i ndeireadh na dála, ní féidir an Ghaeilge a choinneáil beo muna mbíonn postanna ar fáil sa Ghaeltacht agus muna mbíonn ar chumas daoine sa Ghaeilge slí beatha a bhaint amach ar aon dul le daoine in aon cheantar eile den tír. Tá gá mar sin le eagras a bheith ann chun forbairt tionscalaíochta agus fostaíochta a chur ar aghaidh sa Ghaeltacht. Sin an chéad mholadh gur mhaith liom rud a rá faoi.
Baineann moladh 22 le dearbhú a chur sa straitéis nach mbainfidh polasaí dhátheangach leis an Ghaeltacht agus nach gcuirfear i bhfeidhm sa Ghaeltacht é. Tá sé thar a bheith tábhachach do pháistí na Gaeltachta go mbeidh an Bhéarla acu, agus go mbeidh sé gach pioc chomh maith acu agus ag aon dalta eile sa tír. An rud atá i gceist leis an moladh, agus aontaím leis, ná má cheapann muintir na Gaeltachta go bfhuil iachall orthu labhairt go dhátheangach, nach láidreoidh sin an Ghaeilge. Ar an lámh eile, bhíodh daoine ag imeacht ón Ghaeltacht fadó, cuirim i gcás daoine a théadh thall go Sasana chun fostaíocht a fháil, agus ní raibh caighdeán maith go leor acu sa Bhéarla. Buíochas le Dia, tá an t-am sin thart. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh caighdeán sa Bhéarla ag muintir na Gaeltachta atá gach pioc chomh maith leis an gcaighdeán in áit ar bith eile sa tír.
I will speak in English now because one of the things that troubles me with regard to the 20 year strategy is that people do not know about it. The vast majority of people are not aware of the strategy, which I fully support. The Government is to be complimented for providing an overall strategy for the language. I have long been critical that no strategy has been in place and there has been no framework within which to work with clearly defined objectives. This strategy is now in place but, ultimately, the most important issue is driving the strategy. If people are unaware of it in the first instance then how can they engage with it? We all agree there is a large measure of soft support for the Irish language among the public but we must convert this into something more active and we must arrange for the people to engage and develop a sense of ownership for the Irish language.
There is an issue with regard to the public mood at present. People are without hope in many cases and are concerned about where the country is headed. In the days ahead this will probably unravel in a more meaningful way inasmuch as people will receive much-needed clarification. The uncertainty is pushing them down and never before has it been more important for people's self-esteem to be lifted. Undoubtedly, part of this self-esteem relates to who we are, what we are, what we can be proud of and what makes us unique. The Irish language forms a significant part of this.
Mention has been made of seeking to revive the language but I am unsure whether that is an accurate way of describing what the objective should be. The language has not developed organically in a long time but we should seek to place an emphasis on language development. Language develops where language is used. I did not always hold this view in my teaching days but my attitude with regard to simplifying language has changed in recent years.
The Minister will recall from his teaching days the teaching of the tuiseal ginideach and the considerable difficulties that came with this, including, for example, those associated with the irregular verbs or na briathra neamhrialta, of which there are 13. Other languages have many more but they have become irregular verbs because they are used most. These are very confusing for children. We should seek to simplify these and remove obstacles to children learning the language. The process for learning the language involves hearing it first and most children hear Irish for the first time in school. We do not have what we used to call the "timpeallacht cainte" outside the school. Na Naíonraí Gaelacha serve a significant role in this regard. One hears a language, then one speaks it, reads it and, finally, one writes it.
I recall from my teacher training days that we were told that a child's capacity to absorb a language is in decline from age five onwards. The early years are very important. Having the timpeallacht cainte in place is very important. Perhaps, it does not suit every child because many children grow up in an environment where the language environment in the English language is not sufficient to move them through the education system as it becomes more involved with language and terminology. That is a significant issue.
We should concentrate on survival and protect the joy in learning the language. It can be an enriching and exciting experience. Many people have a considerable store of Irish words which may be somewhere in the sub-conscious from when they were in school. People absorb Irish language words from the media as well. Certain Irish words are also used in ordinary spoken English. Some years ago, I carried out an interesting exercise. I examined an English language dictionary based on the English spoken in Newfoundland, Canada. It was remarkable how many Irish words were in the vocabulary, including some we have stopped using but which remain in the vocabulary there.
There is a remarkable richness and a remarkable degree of vocabulary to be picked up from place names. It is also possible to learning about an area, its history and so on. However, the most important message which should come from the Oireachtas and this debate is the importance of encouraging people to use whatever Irish they have, regardless of how little it is, and to seek to create an environment whereby we encourage one another. If I know somewhat more than the next person I should help that person along.
The Minister will recall there have been occasions in the past when some people believed it was their duty to correct people who were making a valiant effort to speak Irish. I believe this has diminished greatly but there remains a need to encourage one another. Sometimes the view is taken that all the emphasis should be directed towards the next generation, younger people and people who already have Irish. However, it is very important not to forget about those who have a certain amount of Irish, who are favourable toward the development of their Irish and of the use of Irish generally and in a bilingual since. We must transmit that message.
One fundamental aspect for the success of the strategy is the need to place the responsibility for driving it with the Taoiseach's office.
That is absolutely vital. One of the recommendations of the strategy is that at the beginning of each year there should be a report on what has happened in the previous year, what the objectives were, to what extent they were achieved, whether any difficulties were experienced, and how these might be addressed. It should also contain a new programme for the coming year. A strategy is a broadly based outline which needs to be broken down into programmes and achievable objectives. To confer upon the Taoiseach's office the responsibility for driving the strategy would lead to much better co-ordination. In addition, the Taoiseach answers parliamentary questions in the House two days a week, which would allow Deputies and party leaders to ask questions about the strategy if they so desired. Equally, written questions could be tabled. This would result in continued engagement by the Oireachtas with the language, which, in its own way, would filter through to the community.
We need to consider what is being achieved currently. We are spending fairly substantial amounts on the Irish language. Dr. Ed Walsh recently offered a figure - I do not know from where it came - of €1.2 billion spent annually on the teaching of Irish in our schools. That is a considerable amount. The Coimisinéir Teanga, with whom I was in contact about this issue, provided an estimate in 2005, and he told me how he had calculated it. His figure for spending on Irish in the school system was €500 million, which is still a considerable amount. I emphasise, as did the Coimisinéir Teanga, that we are talking about an opportunity cost. In other words, if our spending on the Irish language were reduced-----