Thursday, 14 April 2005
Question 8: To ask the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he is considering seeking Cabinet approval for the establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee to examine the issues raised in the first annual report of the Coimisinéar Teanga; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [11407/05]
In his inaugural report, the Coimisinéir Teanga called, as I have done, for a national debate on the teaching of the Irish language in schools. He also commented on the infrequency with which the language is used in debates in the Oireachtas.
The main part of the report was concerned with outlining how the coimisinéir has functioned and met the responsibilities of his office since his establishment. I wholeheartedly welcome the report and look forward to seeing the fruits over the coming years both of my Department's work in negotiating schemes with public bodies under the Act and the coimisinéir's work in monitoring and providing advice in regard to those schemes. There is a significant amount of work to be undertaken across a range of issues in regard to securing and advancing the situation of the Irish language and the Coimisinéir Teanga has made a welcome contribution to public debate on the issues.
The establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee would serve no useful purpose at this stage. The Deputy is aware that I have established Fóram na Gaeilge to advise me on, inter alia, how best to promote the Irish language in the 21st century. This will include advising me as to the desirability of a 20-year strategic plan with realistic goals for the Irish language in the State. There is a separate question to me about the fóram on today's Order Paper.
The publication of the first annual report of the Coimisinéir Teanga has created a stir. I criticised the Minister and the commissioner for the blame being apportioned to teachers. We will be better served by focusing on the main issue, an environment which is at best unsupportive of the Irish language. There is some truth in the contentions regarding the quality of teaching but it perverts the argument to focus on that aspect.
In his report, the commissioner emphasised the weakness of the Irish language throughout the public service. My concern is that everyone will laud the report as worthwhile but no action will be taken. The establishment of a Cabinet sub-committee would ensure a focus on what needs to be done in the various Departments and elsewhere. Until the issue is given a focus such as this, little or no progress will be made. The danger is that there will be plenty of publicity and positive appraisals but the report will be forgotten quickly.
We seem to have come full circle. I have been saying all along that I am not one for setting up committees and issuing reports. I intend to articulate Government policy and not the views of a Fóram na Gaeilge report, although I want that organisation to give advice. Any policy statement positioning the role of the Irish language in the State will be a statement of Government policy, not a statement by Fóram na Gaeilge. I want it to do continuous work. I remember critics of Fóram na Gaeilge questioning when it would finish its work and issue a report. I stated this was not its purpose. As we discussed earlier today, we want it to push the agenda forward incrementally. I can recall a large range of issues regarding which we have done just that during my tenure of office.
Let me address the Deputy's other question. About four or five weeks ago, I spoke in Cork about teaching the Irish language. Anybody who was present on the night will remember that I made two points. Just because one states a fact does not mean one is blaming somebody. I did not state what I stated to blame anybody. However, if a fact is a fact, let us deal with it. Let us move away from the codology whereby it is believed that if one states a fact, one is in some way accusing or blaming somebody personally.
I will reiterate the fact I stated at the meeting in Cork. There is a major problem associated with the teaching of Irish associated with many teachers' lack of knowledge of the language. If anybody doubts me in that regard, he should go to the coláistí oiliúna, meet the final year students and have with them the debates we have had this afternoon in Irish. He will find out that what I am saying is a matter of fact. It would be crazy of me to blame the students for not doing something if the system has not taught them that thing. I am not into that business. On the other hand, it would be equally crazy for me not to recognise the aforementioned fact and request that we address the problem.
In debates on the Irish language, we always seem to believe that stating a fact involves apportioning blame. In the debate on the Official Languages Act, I alluded to the fact that only 5% of adults speak Irish on a daily basis. Therefore, I always said it was ludicrous to suggest that every civil servant should be able to deal with every issue through Irish. I rubbished this at the time on the basis that they do not have Irish. One of the great arguments in the debate centred on this topic.
I reiterate the well recognised and known fact that the majority of public servants do not feel comfortable doing their daily business through the medium of Irish. All the evidence from censuses etc. will substantiate this, as will the evidence we glean in respect of the day-to-day realities we encounter in our work.
I agree with the Minister and other Deputies that we are greatly indebted to the language commissioner for his reports and the facts he has presented to us. These facts have been staring us in the face for a number of years. The results in the education system are limited. Have there been any consultations between the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and an Roinn Oideachais agus Eolaíochta regarding the content of the Irish syllabus in primary schools? There should be more emphasis on the spoken language rather than presenting young children with reading, writing and grammar at such a tender age. This turns them off. Our priority should be to emphasise the spoken language.
Ó thaobh Gaeilge san Oireachtas, an féidir leis an Aire a mholadh do na húdaráis anseo go bhfuil an cluasán deas, beag, néata atá ag an gCeann Comhairle i bhfad níos áisiúla agus go mbeadh daoine sásta tuilleadh Gaeilge a úsáid má tá cluasáin mar sin ar fáil seachas an rud mór millte seo atá an-sofheicthe agus a bheadh ar an teilifís agus duine ag éisteacht leis an aistriúchán? Bheadh rud chomh simplí sin ina chabhair ar an cheist.
Glacaim gur chuala an Ceann Comhairle an cheist a chuir an Teachta orm ansin. Is ceist í sin don CPP agus tá mé cinnte go dtuigeann an Ceann Comhairle, i nGaeilge nó i mBéarla, an pointe sin. Aontaím leis an Teachta. Bheadh an rud eile ar nós mar a bheadh ar láithreoir teilifíse agus ní fheicfí é. Le cúnamh Dé, chuala an Ceann Comhairle an bheirt againn agus díreoidh sé ar an gceist sin.
Ag dul ar ais chuig fadhb na múinteoirí, tá bunús léi. Ag glacadh go bhfuil an ceart ag an Teachta agus go bhfuil fadhb ann go bhfuil go leor múinteoirí nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu, b'fhéidir gurbh fhearr dúinn teilifísí a cheannach, iad a chur sa rang agus uair a chloig de "Cúla Búla" a chur ar bun chuile lá. Thaitneodh sin leis na páistí agus b'fhéidir go bhfoghlaimeoidís i bhfad níos mó Gaeilge ón teilifís ar a labhraítear Gaeilge mhaith ná mar a bhfoghlaimeoidís ó mhúinteoir nach bhfuil an teanga aige. Má aithnítear an fhadhb go fuar-chúiseach, go minic tá réiteach fíor-fheicthe ar an bhfadhb ach daoine a bheith oscailte go bealach eile breathnú ar an gceist. Sin an rud a ba mhaith liom a thabhairt don díospóireacht seo. Tá an teicneolaíocht ann anois. Ní gá go mbeidh an múinteoir sa rang ag teagasc na Gaeilge.