It has been five years since we learned the future of the Gaeltacht was in danger.
On a January evening in 2008, hundreds of people gathered at the Ionad an Acadaimh, Gaoth Dobhair, to hear the results of a linguistic study of the Gaeltacht that was prepared for the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs by Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge.
The news was not good.
The comprehensive report determined that unless there were major changes in language-use patterns, Irish would stop being the predominant community and family language in the Gaeltacht in 15 to 20 years. A couple of years later, the government published, “A 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language, 2010-2030,” incorporating a number of recommendations from the earlier study.
In 2010, Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, one of the authors of that earlier study, told the Democrat he appreciated the impact of the recession on government spending, but said the work will require funding.
“Hopefully some day we will come out of the economic recession, but linguistic crises don’t wait,” Conchúr said. “They have to be solved when they occur. Twenty years down the road will be too late.”
There has been some activity in the years since.
Two years ago, there were reports of people in the civil service who were given written warnings because they were publicly critical of the government’s Gaeltacht Bill.
Last December, An Coimisinéir Teanga Seán Ó Cuirreáin announced he was stepping down because of the government’s failure to implement legislation designed to improve services through Irish. He told a joint Oireachtas committee that he believed Ireland was reaching a place where citizens wishing to interact with public bodies would have to do so through English.
“Requiring the people of the Gaeltacht to conduct their business in English with state agencies flies in the face of any policy which suggests that the survival of the Gaeltacht is on the state’s agenda,” he said, according to The Irish Times.
This past Saturday, hundreds of Donegal people were among the thousands who marched in Dublin for Lá Mór na Gaeilge, to speak out for the rights of Irish-speakers to secure services through Irish, and to push the government to implement the 20-year strategy. A Donegal group within the campaign, Dearg le Fearg, or “red with anger”, said people needed to voice their anger at government inactivity during this crucial time for the Gaeltacht and the language.
The Gaeltacht has long been the country’s Irish-language hothouse. Not only do these strong, proud communities take great joy in our national language, but their Irish colleges and living examples have provided people around the island of Ireland with the inspiration that has developed generations of Irish-speakers.
In this struggle for the future of our national language we all must stand with our Gaeltacht sisters and brothers. Irish belongs to all of us.
Danny Brown, editor of Goitse, an Irish-language newspaper in the west Donegal Gaeltacht that supported Saturday’s march, told the Democrat that just 1.6 per cent of civil servants in the Department of Education and Skills were Irish-speakers.
“The message that’s going out to Irish speakers and people in the Gaeltacht is that it’s all very well for you to speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t ask to speak it to government bodies, because we’re not going to accommodate you,” he said. “That message has gone out from successive governments.”
This editorial appeared in the Donegal Democrat/People’s Press on Monday, Jan. 17, 2014.