Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Linguistic thoughts on the visit of a Prime Minister.

It's a great headline in today's Irish Times, "Bromance blossoms as Fanboy Slim meets Justin Biebeau" and (as usual) Miriam Lord had nailed another success to her never to be missed regular articles.

Premier ministre du Canada
This writer was struck by certain things during this visit by Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of the officially bilingual Canada to our own country. As is usual I was struck by linguistic aspects. How Canada "does it!" As an inveterate tweeter I am inclined to use twitter as a guage or measure of how things are.

It is interesting here to see how the two countries and "establishments" spoke about the same events.

The current Prime Minister of Canada has one personal twitter account @JustinTrudeau. He appears to tweet religiously on this account in both official languages, French first and then English. Compare with the Taoiseach of our country. Enda Kenny, as far as I can see, never tweeted other than in English. The new boy, Leo Varadkar, is perhaps to new to the job but so far it's not looking so good for Irish.

The Canadian Prime Minister has in addition two official twitter accounts, one in French (@PMcanadien) and the other in English (@CanadianPM). The tweets are concurrent and in addition in the profile they have links to the other language.

Uachtarán na hÉireann
During this trip he tweeted reports on his progress on all accounts and in both languages. I find it revealing that none of the commentators, including our national broadcaster, seemed to advert to this fact.

Compare and Contrast
Although the accounts are handled in a different way here it is marked that neither the tweets from the Taoiseach's personal account or the official Merrion Street (Irish Government News Service) tweets were totally monolingual and they only retweeted the tweets in English from the Canadian Accounts.

The only tweet from Irish officialdom on this visit in the National Language, (and what is often referred as the First Official Language) was on the twitter Account of the President . This account which was opened some years ago and attracted some adverse comment because it used the English "President" rather than the Irish -and more constitutionally correct(?) - "Uachtarán,"  form for the office. Having said that the President is in fact the only person who shows some modicum of respect for the National Language on this medium.

There was an official dinner given by the Taoiseach for his guest in Dublin Castle. It was interesting to hear the Prime Minister use both  official languages of his country (He apparently avoided using the "cúpla focal," thus avoiding that usual cringemaking applause reserved for such appeasement!) I wonder how often, if ever a Taoiseach ever used our National Language at such an occasion abroad!

Canada of course has a long tradition in bilingual activity and not only in French & English but more recently in fostering the indigenous languages. I have a vivid memory the passionate and emotional contribution of Sandra Inutiq, the first Nunavut Language Commissioner at the International Conference on Language Rights held in Dublin in 2013.

People complain about the intransigence of some representatives of the Unionist community with regard to our language but perhaps people on this side of the border, including those who purport to be fighting for Irish Language Rights, should look at their own house.

How much Irish is on the Fine Gael website.

How much Irish is on the Sinn Féin website?

How much Irish is on any Irish Political Website?

One is tempted to the belief that the words a commission on state attitude towards the Irish speaking community way back in 1926 are still valid and active and that the "establishment" in Ireland are still "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English..."*



Don't we have lessons to learn?
Monolingual Taoiseach Tweet!
Bilingual Trudeau Tweet!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Reflecting inability to access state services in National Language! @ceartateanga #TB2016

É seo i nGaeilge!
The 2016 Annual Report of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Bilingual) shows that 2016 saw the highest ever number of complaints and requests for advice from the public since the establishment of the Office in 2004. "This high number of complaints was not brought about by any one particular matter. I believe that this demonstrates the enduring difficulties encountered by the population in general, and by the Irish-speaking community in particular, in accessing satisfactory state services through Irish, " he states in this report.

Complaints 
A total of 768 complaints were made to the Office during 2016. Almost a third of the complaints received by the Office related to services which are covered by language schemes. This area includes services such as websites, on-line systems, application forms and interpersonal services. In addition, there was a substantial increase in the number of complaints concerning the lack of Irish on signage and stationery.

The highest number of complaints came from those living in Dublin (45%), a slight increase from 2015, and one in five complaints derived from Gaeltacht areas.

The Annual Report contains extensive accounts of the formal investigations completed during the year and of the monitoring work carried out by the Office.

New Act headings
The Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs recently announced the new heads of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2017. An Coimisinéir Teanga welcomes the provisions of the new heads as they substantially address the recommendations made heretofore aimed at strengthening the Official Languages Act. These heads are a mark of progress, and implementation is now needed to achieve the aspirations they set out.

An Coimisinéir Teanga recognises that the publication of the new heads is just the first step in a process to make substantial and constructive changes to the Official Languages Act. Minister of State Seán Kyne TD is to be praised for making a good start to this process and it is now hoped that the work will be brought to fruition in the coming months. An Coimisinéir Teanga wishes Minister of State Joe Mc Hugh TD the best in this endeavour and intends supporting this work in a manner beneficial to the wider public.

Failure of Language Schemes


The proposal to replace the system of language schemes with a regulations-based system is highly significant. This would fundamentally alter the structures currently in place for provision of State services through Irish and is in accordance with the recommendation contained in the commentary on the operation of the Act published by An Coimisinéir Teanga in April of this year. The evidence presented in that commentary showed that the language scheme system more often than not weakens and reduces the provision of State services through Irish. An Coimisinéir Teanga stated at that time that: “A new system is needed, based on direct regulations applicable to public bodies depending on their level of contact with the public, in order to comprehensively and systematically improve service provision in the Irish language.”

It is a fundamental fact that satisfactory provision of services through Irish is dependent on sufficient numbers of Irish speakers being employed in the Public Service. The current recruitment system is not achieving this objective. The proposal in the heads that 20% of new recruits into the Public Service must have Irish is to be welcomed. With proper planning, such a policy and statutory obligation should give hope to the Irish language community that an improved standard of service in Irish will be forthcoming from the Public Service.

@ceartateanga #TB2016

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"Direct agents for the spreading and establishment of English!" #Coimisnéir

An important comprehensive study was issued overnight by the Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, an office filled by appointment of the President of Ireland, on the operation of a fundamental part of the Official Languages Act 2003. Up to now while people felt that things were not going to plan there was little other than anecdotal evidence. Now with this commentary, A Commentary on the Language Scheme System, we have firm proven and provable evidence as to just how they are working - or not - and why. We have included the Coimisinéir's own press release at the bottom of this piece.

He starts his report setting the scene "The Statement on the Irish Language published by the Government of Ireland in 2006 states that the Official Languages Act would be used 'to achieve a significant improvement on a phased basis, over a period, in the level of services through Irish provided by the State.' That objective was reaffirmed in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language when it referred to 'the right of the public to use Irish in dealings with the State' and sought to 'increase the number of people that use State services through the Irish language'”.

It was pointed out by the previous Commissioner, before he resigned on principle, that he really had no idea how the 20 Year Strategy was working and suggested that the members of the Oireachtas were in the same position. He pointed that he was unaware if anyone was measuring its impact. "What gets measured gets done!" he said (Oireachtas Reports 23 Jan 2014).  This aphorism was repeated by the present encumbent almost exactly one year later (Oireachtas Reports, 14 Jan 2015). So here at last we have a measurement - something more than just an anecdote, a feeling. This is a serious document.

The most startling lines for this reader are found on on pages 28 and 29. Here they are:
"As far back as 1926 the Commission for the Gaeltacht recognised the negative effect being exerted on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht by public servants without Irish and the functioning of public services through the medium of English.


In order fully to understand it, one has only to visualise a Gárda Síochána barracks of English Speaking Gárdaí in the centre of an Irish Speaking district; or a Post Office, in which no one speaks Irish, in an Irish Speaking village; or a non-Irish Speaking official of the Department of Agriculture, or of the Land Commission, or of the Customs and Excise, operating amongst an Irish Speaking population. These officials are direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English. 
Coimisiún na Gaeltachta (1926)

"The Commission at that time attested to the necessity for Irish as the normal default language between the State and its executives and the people of the Gaeltacht, as well as for ensuring that public servants working in the Gaeltacht should be fluent in Irish. More than ninety years later neither those recommendations, nor their equivalent, have been implemented. (my emphasis)

"Service through the medium of Irish should be actively offered, and Gaeltacht customers should be made aware that they are welcome to use Irish in their dealings with the public body concerned. It must be remembered that there are strong, long-established English communication norms between Gaeltacht communities and various State organisations. Customers, who feel disadvantaged, lack confidence and who feel obliged to the organisation for whatever necessary assistance they receive, would be unlikely to demand service in their own language of choice if they felt that would inconvenience people. That is not to say that they would not choose to use Irish were that choice available and presented to customers in an effective manner."

As the Commisioner said in another place about this long established practise (Gaeltacht residents interacting with state organisations), "Bíodh is go bhfuil muid imithe i dtaithí ar an gcur chuige sin ní shin le rá go bhfuil sé ceart." (Trans: Because we are used to this way of doing things is not the same as saying it is the ideal!) Speech in Irish in Rosmuc 18 Sept 2015.

As the report states "the statutory Guidelines comply with the principle" of providing this choice to people but the practice remains leading to the unavoidable conclusion that today the state are still "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English." (Is it not interesting to put this statement, philosophy, in the context of the 1893 address by Dr.Douglas Hyde which was so important for the struggle for independence?)

Gaeilge ar-líne
"I hope it will be considered!"
For instance how many of us remember when any of these organisations told us that they welcome interaction in what is after all "The National Language." (Bunracht na hÉireann Alt 8). In this writer's experience only two entities do this on twitter, Uisce Éireann (Irish Water) and  Cáin Mhótair Ar Líne (Motor Taxation On-Line). (I'm open to correction but ESB Networks, NCT, An Post, Traffic, etc are exclusively English language). Even the National Legislative assemblies of Seanad and Dáil Éireann rarely tweet anything in the National Language. The European Parliament is far more frequent (almost daily) in using our language. Uachtarán na hÉireann does tweet regularly in Irish (albeit incomprehensibly under the heading @presidentIRL).  The Taoiseach never tweets in Irish! And the political parties with the exception of the Greens & Sinn Féin are intermittant tweeters in Irish (though the latter is like the major parties - FG, FF, Lab - is lamentable in it recognition of Irish on their websites.)

The Coimisinéir's forward ends as follows: "I relayed my concerns regarding the deficiencies in the language scheme system to the Standing Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, most recently on 4 October 2016. That Oireachtas committee requested that I submit proposals to it about ways in which public service provision through the medium of Irish could be administered more effectively. In Part II of this commentary, I propose an alternative approach in relation to some of the subjects being discussed under the language scheme system and other related matters which would, in my estimation, add considerably to the effectiveness of the legislation."

I have some confidence in the work being carried out by this committee under the effective chairmanship of Catherine Connelly T.D. and hope that this document will help them in their work and that, more importantly, using the words on the Coimisinéir Teanga, "Tá súil agam go dtabharfar aird orthu," which loses some of its flavour in the translation, "I hope it will be considered!"

The report is surely very important and merits careful study by all involved in serving our citizens in their choice of language as was recommended as far back as 1926 - ninety years ago.  

Is it too much to hope that the State will cease to be "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English?"




The press statement from the Office of the Coimisinéir Teanga.

“The system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established.” An Coimisinéir Teanga An analysis carried out by An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, on the system of language schemes demonstrated that, at the end of last year, seven requests for the preparation of a language scheme were outstanding for a period in excess of nine years. In a commentary on the operation of the Official Languages Act by An Coimisinéir Teanga, it was also reported that no Gaeltacht minister to date has reported any public body’s failure to prepare or agree a language scheme, although the Minister has the power to do so under the Official Languages Act. As part of this analysis an audit was carried out of every language scheme that was confirmed in 2015 and 2016. This audit demonstrates:
  • That retrograde steps were taken in more than half of the schemes that were agreed and were supposed to increase the services available in Irish
  • That posts with an Irish language requirement were identified in less than one language scheme in five
  • That commitments made in schemes, that were the subject of an investigation by An Coimisinéir Teanga, were set aside or reduced in two out of every three schemes subsequently confirmed
Among the recommendations made by An Coimisinéir Teanga are:
  • A new recruitment policy that would ensure a minimum necessary level of staff with competence in Irish
  • Common standards with regard to services in Irish that would not be based on the system of language schemes
  • To forge a connection between language planning and language rights by ensuring that State employees working in or serving the Gaeltacht, are fluent in Irish
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said, “it is clear that the system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established. I have recommended an alternative approach in this commentary; I hope it will be considered.”

Friday, March 24, 2017

Not faking it any more...

This interesting paperback* will interest (among others) those many people who say "I'd love to speak Irish but...." It is an entertaining un-put-downable well written account of the journalist Micheal McCaughan's journey into the ancient language of Ireland - "Coming Home" he calls it.

After reading it you will understand the struggle, elation, joy and satisfaction that is before you.

It is the author’s story of his journey around Ireland and the Irish language. His comments on what he found about the two planets mutually uncomprending of each other - and in some cases openly hostile - the English Ireland and the Irish Ireland is fascinating.

From a surreal start involving dedicated listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta’s death notices, to rediscovering the soul of the language through immersing himself in Phil Lynott’s music – all without becoming a Gaelbore – Coming Home will make you want to follow in his footsteps and strike out in search of the grá.

Why don't you try? As the writer Joseph O'Conner said, "This journey towards a homecoming will touch many hearts."

* COMING HOME, One man’s return to the Irish Language
By Michael McCaughan
ISBN 9780717171590 €15.00
Publisher: Gill Books

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A principled echo heard!

A recent excellent article, The TK Whitaker archives: a career of answering back, by Prodessor Diarmuid Ferriter, Professor of Modern Irish History at UCD, examined the record of the late T.K. Whitaker in his archive. The Papers of T.K. Whitaker are a deposited collection in the archive of University College Dublin.

The late Dr T.K. Whitaker
It is an very interesting appraisal of the contribution of this gentle and conscientious servant of the nation (in the full meaning of the word). This writer found it not fully objective but nevertheless it made riveting reading. (Defining the word "objective" is perhaps itself subjective and we all have our own way of looking at things.

One of the sentences in his piece caused me to pause and reflect. The writer was talking about Dr Whitaker's sojourn as Governor of the Central Bank. He served for one term only. "He would not serve a second term as governor, as it could have been regarded as 'a condonation of policies I considered to be wrong!'"

It is so rare to hear of people resigning or not taking a post on principle and it reminded me of a more recent case of a public servant resigning "on principle to draw attention to these matters or to continue in my role and, consequently, to participate in a pretence. "  These are the (translated) words of the first Language Ombudsman (Comisinéir Teanga) of Ireland, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, addressing an Oireachtas Committee on 23rd January 2014.

How lucky are we as a nation to have possessed such principled public servants.

May we continue to have such brave servants.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

No Irish...Radio?

This is a letter to the Irish Times sent 28/12/2016 but unpublished. (I don't have any issue with them not publishing it - they have the unenviable job of choosing what to publish!)

Here is another letter which WAS published on the exclusion of stations dated 4th January 2017.
Sir,
The article by Jim Carroll entitled “No Irish: Why the lack of home-grown acts on Irish Radio?” (Irish Times 27/12/2016) featured twenty radio stations. Many of these were unknown to this listener. Yet inexplicably the National Radio station to which he listens most was sadly omitted. Raidío na Gaeltachta may or may not broadcast many home-grown acts but Mr Carroll's article leaves us in ignorance. A case of “No Irish?”


Yours etc

Eoin Ó Riain
Conamara.


@IrishTimes @RTERnaG @cnag @jimcarrollOTR @WilliePenroseTD @radiomonitorirl

Thursday, December 22, 2016

140 Characters is not enough!

Recently I foolishly got involved in a twitter argument on Irish and the usefulness of language. That topic usually does get my temperature up after a short series of tweet exchanges I thought the exchange was over. But then the fray was joined rather extraordinarily by @gtcost who sent in quick succession some dozen tweets to each of which I wished to respond. But twitter is not the best way to express deep felt thoughts so I resolved to write a piece and put it up as a jpeg attachment but it became veru=y long so I resolved to put it on my English blog. I hope it is civilised and not insulting - it is not intended to be.

The why of this piece!
For what it is worth here it is:

"I live in an Irish speaking community. The community council does its business through Irish. as do our local sports organisations, church functions, local bridge clubs, drama groups etc etc. I could not be classed as a member of a language pressure group - nor could any of my neighbours. It just happens to be a "required language" in our district. (a fact lamentably ignored by the Irish state but that is perhaps an entire other argument!)

Should we abandon it? Your logic seems to be that we should abandon or at least sideline that heritage (as so many other parts of Ireland have either voluntarily or otherwise done; to deprive the people of a country of the opportunity to link with the heritage of the oldest written language of Europe which is still in daily vernacular use.

You seem to say that the study of our own language in some way is a hindrance to the study of the other subjects and ideas mentioned. I would hesitate myself to make such a bold claim as to put such a limit to the ability of the human intellect.

I think that is the tragedy of this way of thinking reflects the attitude described by our President some years ago when he referred to those “for whom Irish was not half dead enough.” (2010).

Indeed our first President stated unequivocally many year ago: "the Irish language is worth knowing, or why would the greatest philologists of Germany, France, and Italy be emulously studying it, and it does possess a literature, or why would a German savant have made the calculation that the books written in Irish between the eleventh and seventeenth centuries, and still extant, would fill a thousand octavo volumes." (1882)

Is it still worth knowing?

Recently a project on modern Irish writers has been published with portraits and short biographies. These can truly be described as Irish writers in the tradtions of those scholors and writers who went before like Céitinn and Raifteirí etc. Yet so many of their fellow country men and women are ignorant of this flowering of Irish literature. Look it up on line at portraidi.ie (It is English as well as in our own language!).

Are they wasting their time writing prose and poetry for our delight and sometimes enlightenment?

An American professor in the field of mathamathics has been involved with others in translating the various platforms facebook, twitter, etc for use with Irish - I use both and they work fine. Users may choose Irish as their language of choice on their mobile phones. Firefox, the popular browsing platform is available in Irish as are Microsoft programs.

Are they wasting their money?

Almost 8000 people follow the Gaeilge Amháin facebook page and they are by no means all Irish by blood. I have seen Japanese, Dutch, Americans, Russia, English and Finnish contributors among others.

Should this be classed as "zero universal (as in cross-national) value?"

Me? I am not competent to discuss the merits of bi-lingualism and there are many studies that may be found using Google I do know from my own experience that my life has been enriched by my knowledge of English and a also of Latin and through this knowledge I have a smattering of German and make my way through the Latin-languages. I also find I have an little understanding of the Scottish languages and even Welsh which comes from the enriching influence of learning the National Language.

Quite frankly I was shocked at the defensive - or was it hostile? – of these dozen or so tweets. English, still less the fabric of Irish society is not damaged by our love or our learning of our own language. On the contrary losing our linguistic sovereignty – a cornerstone of our cultural identity, heritage and soul as a nation - is a clear and present danger. (vide Seán Ó Cuirreáin's final address to an Oireachtas Committee Jan 2013)

I am sad that you do not appear to understand that."