Another post from Seimi, he send me it yesterday but I wanted to publish it today, Friday!
15 years ago, a number of commitments were made in the Good Friday Agreement in relation to the Irish language. They were;
- take resolute action to promote the language
- facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand
- seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language
- make provision for liaising with the Irish language community, representing their views to public authorities and investigating complaints
- explore urgently with the relevant British authorities, and in co-operation with the Irish broadcasting authorities, the scope for achieving more widespread availability of Teilifís na Gaeilge in Northern Ireland
- seek more effective ways to encourage and provide financial support for Irish language film and television production in Northern Ireland
Also, one line was added to the Education Order, to ‘place a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education in line with current provision for integrated education’
To date, I feel that the Irish speaking community have been let down in regards to the implementation of the above commitments.
The only ‘resolute actions to promote the language’ have come from departments within the Executive which have Nationalist ministers. The other departments have simply ignored the commitment.
There is little or no encouragement of the use of the language in speech and writing, except in a few cases, for example the bilingual signage on bus routes in west Belfast. There is ongoing debate over bilingual signage on National Trust property. When the new Giant’s Causeway Interpretative Centre was opened, information was provided and notices erected, giving the Creationist view on the rock formations (6,000 years ago), but not a single word of Irish. This was later changed to include the belief (or fairytale) that the causeway was created by the Irish giant, Fionn Mac Cumhaill (still in English though).
When phoning the Assembly, you can ask for the Irish language service in any department. Your call is then transferred to an answering machine, where you can leave a comment, or make your enquiry. Once a week, someone listens, and responds to the messages left. Not a different answering machine for each department – the same one.
Nationalist MLAs begin their comments in Stormont with a few words of Irish. They are then required to translate what they have said into English, but are not allowed any extra time to make their point.
I have a couple of problems with this. Firstly, I think it is unfair to not allow the extra time to translate. Secondly, I can’t understand why the Assembly doesn’t just have simultaneous translation services available, thus doing away with the need to translate from the floor, within the time limit. And thirdly, only a few of the MLAs actually speak Irish, so why do they all insist on using it? It does to me, look like a bit of point scoring, a way to ‘wind up’ their opposite numbers. I hate the language being used as a political football, and in the Assembly, the two teams wear Green and Orange, and the ball they kick is definitely Irish language-shaped.
As to seeking to remove restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language, I can think of literally dozens of examples which show that this commitment has been completely ignored. If we are to remove restrictions, then we should start by removing those elected representatives (or their staff) who call it a ‘Leprechaun language’, or who say it makes them ‘sick to their stomach’ to hear even a few words of Irish spoken. We should press those MPs (now elevated to much higher positions) who called the biggest Irish medium primary school (and the first) ‘an educational disaster waiting to happen’, to clarify if they still feel this way, or do they recognise now the value of these schools and the consistently high marks their pupils achieve. We should also ask these same elected representatives if they still feel that ‘Smash the Irish Language Act’ is still a good election policy.
As to liaising with the Irish language community, again it is the Nationalist parties who are at the forefront here (quelle surprise, or Iontas na n-iontas as we say around these parts). It should be pointed out though, that there have been some meetings with Unionist parties regarding the language issue, and these haven’t always been negative.
TG4, or Teilifís na Gaeilge as it was back in 1998, was available to just about everyone up until October last year, when we went digital. Now it is only available through Saorview, at a cost of around £75 for the box. So, whilst the original commitment was met, it has now, effectively been discarded.
The Irish Language Broadcast Fund was set up to produce, you guessed it, Irish language films and TV programmes. The fund has been a great success in terms of output (one film, Kings, was almost shortlisted for an Oscar). High quality programmes have been produced for TG4, BBC, and RTÉ. The biggest bugbear for Irish language production companies, is the large amount of the funding which goes to English language producers, who perhaps employ a token Irish speaker for the duration of the production.
But the biggest worries are a) that the fund is far from secure. It currently runs until 2015. After that, there is no plan or commitment to continue it. And b) the fund has remained at the same level since it started. £3 million a year, way, way below what is provided for Scots Gaelic TV production in Scotland, and absolutely light-years behind Welsh language TV production in Wales.
Irish Medium Education, although highly successful in terms of exam results, is still massively underfunded, and teachers and educators within IME are of the opinion that the Department of Education (despite having a Nationalist minister from the start) does not understand the needs of the sector. Considering that they threatened the parents of the first school (my own parents included) with prison, if they opened the school, this is no surprise.
There are many Irish speakers working within the Assembly and Executive. They speak the language because they genuinely love it. They don’t force it down anyone’s throat. They see it as part of their identity. It is part of all our identities, should we wish to embrace it. Irish is not the sole possession of Nationalists/Republicans/Catholics (look at the Irish classes currently being held on the Shankill Road, or the excellent work being done in East Belfast). Irish is part of the culture and history of the island of Ireland, the north-eastern part included. It surrounds us every day. It should be celebrated and cherished, or at the very least, respected. Not kicked about a government building in order to wind up the ‘other side’.
All in all, a pretty poor showing, in my opinion, for an agreement which supposedly had ‘Parity of Esteem’ at its core.