Sunday, November 12, 2017

Listening and thinking...action?

As we mentioned in our previous posting the Language Planning Forum of the Cois Fharraige area of South Conamara rejected as inadequate the funding offered for the action plan which it had previously approved. (see Keep you €100k!).

Statement from the Forum
In making their unanimous decision they did however leave the way open for discussions with the Department and with Udarás na Gaeltachta (who had assisted in funding the research which lead to the final approved plan).

Now we learn that five members of the Forum met officers from both the Department & the Udarás on the 9th November to discuss the impasse. They pointed that the plan could not progress or even start thier plan without the resources as outlined in the plan.

At the end of the meeting, which lasted two hours, the Department of the Gaeltacht officials requested more time to think on what they had heard from the delegation. They indicated that the Department would revert to the delegation after that.

Meanwhile in the words of the former Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, in his last statement before resigning in principle( translation): "Meanwhile tick-tock, Tempus fugit and if, as is said in Irish, “God’s mills grind slowly” it appears the wheels of the state turn more slowly still, particularly in the case of the language."

Perhaps we could also say while the Department mulls Rome burns.

The Forum itself is to meet on the 20th November to discuss the meeting and progress, if any, in the discussions.

Listening and thinking is well and good but will it lead to action?

What does history tell us?

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Keep your €100,000!

Something quite extraordinary happened in the Cois Fharraige district of South Conamara last Monday evening. A committee, which had spent two years voluntarily and on a "pro bono" basis working on a project authorised by the Government producing a comprehensive report and plan for the area, unanimously rejected €100,000 as the maximun amount of money to implement the plan.

The draft plan was presented to the people of the district at the end of last year. Subsequently the completed plan was submitted to Udarás na Gaeltachta and then to the relevant Government Department and was accepted by both bodies and indeed was welcomed by the Minister of State responsible Mr Joe McHugh when he launched them in September 2017. However when he welcomed them he advised that his Department was providing a maximum of €100,000 towards each of the plans in each Gaeltacht Area. This has now been rejected by at least one of the communities

So what went wrong.

The Gaeltacht Act, which was rammed through the Dáil in 2012, decided to place the onourous responsibility of language planning on each Gaeltacht Area. (Indeed this is the first act on Irish or the Gaeltacht not passed unanimously by the Oireachtas. Acht na Gaeilge in 2003, the act which instituted the office of Comissioner Teanga, was painstakingly put together and debated in each house and passed with the full agreement of all parties.) The 2012 act removed the democratic aspect of the Udarás na Gaeltachta from the people. An examination of the deficiencies appeared in this article in the Irish Times (3rd July 2012). In the event the Act was not properly debated and occasioned a walk out by the entire opposition before it was passed without a vote.

The Department then proceed to select the various areas (26 in all). These appear to be arbitrarily selected with little reference to the state of the language in the planning areas. In the Cois Fharraige area this is painfully obvious containing three types of areas as defined by linguistic experts. These are where the language is spoken by an absolute majority (western part of area), where it is less strong (the central area) and finally where it is quite weak (the part of the area closest to Galway City). One would have thought that even to the casual observer each of these areas would have different problems requiring different solutions. Nevertheless these areas are lumped together by the Department as one language planning area. Other Gaeltacht planning areas have been selected on the same haphazard basis. In recent days it has been reported that off the record comments from officials charged with approving these schemes had little or no expertese in the area of language planning.

These committees were given little direction from the Department and certainly they were given no directions or idea as to what finance would be available for the implementation of these games. Remember too that the members of the committees in each district are voluntary with little experience and had to seek advice from language planning experts. They were of course sensible people knowing that there would not be a limitless amount of funds available but assumed, foolishly as it now appears, that the Government wanted them to produce an effective workable plan suitable for the various sub-groups in the planning district.

A body called Fóram Chois Fharraige um Phleanáil Teanga (Cois Fharraige Language Planning Forum). This body is representative of many voluntary community-based organisations operating in the five school areas of Na Forbacha, An Spidéal, An Cnoc, An Tulach and Ros a’ Mhíl. Údarás na Gaeltachta awarded the contract for the preparation of a language plan to the Forum, a contract was signed and funding was provided to prepare a plan. Work commenced in 2014.

They arrived by the end of 2016 with an extraordinary, not to say impressive, document with costed recommendations for reasonable achievable goals in the period of the plan - 2017-2023. A pdf summary in English may be found here. The plan was prepared according to the guidelines set down by Údarás na Gaeltachta. "We estimate that the seven-year plan will cost approximately €250,000 to implement in the Cois Fharraige area. A new community-based and representative organization or company will be required to oversee the implementation of the plan."

Now it appears that the Department while accepting the plan is not prepared to ensure its success by providing the resources. They have moved the goalposts, they have castrated the plan and have shown contempt for the unselfish volunteers.  The plan  is now rendered inoperable and the work of the voluntary members of the committee is wasted. The money already spent on the funding of professionals by the state is also down the drain. This is the reason the Forum has rejected this decision of the Government.

The working Group for Corca Duibhne (West Kerry) have announced that they are supporting the Forum too. And there are reports that the body responsible in Gaoth Dobhair (Donegal) has in fact already disbanded.

The Coimisinéir Teanga made the following statement in 2015 (my translation) "...from my interpretation of the language planning process, with which I have no direct connection, it appears that the heavy burden has been placed on the local communities and I query if the state system is prepared to carry its own part of this burden. Maybe it is more correct to ask if the Gaeltacht people are being asked to shoulder more of the burden of the language than the State itself?" (August 2015)

It would appear that the State has now answered this question and it appears that the endangered Gaeltacht Communities have buckled under the strain.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Abandoned by Bank of Ireland!

This morning an article (Irish) in the on-line publication Tuairisc.ie reports yet another retrograde step in the service provided by the Bank of Ireland to its customers.

There have been many accounts in the media of their unwillingness to deal face to face with customers wishing to withdraw money at their branches. Now it appears that in replacing their ATM machines they are discontinuing the linguistic choices available on these machines. From now on these will be monolingual.

According to the article this means that the only ATMs remaining to recognise the National Language (no matter how low the apparent demand) are those in the Applegreen petrol stations. These have no connection with the Bank of Ireland.

Bank of Ireland have stated that only about 1% of users use the Irish language facility but state they are unable to say in what parts of the country are the highest users.

There are four of these that I use frequently (two or three times per month) which are deep in the Gaeltacht and now it appears that the policy of the Bank of Ireland is to deny the people of my area - and any Gaeltacht area - to use their facilities in their own language.

I look forward to the time when the Central Bank authorises our local Credit Union to issue cheque books and other banking services so I can move my own monies fully to its care.

I'm sure some of the Language organisations have accounts with the Bank of Ireland. I wonder how many will use the muscle to advise the bank, and indeed other Banks, of their opinions in this matter

#Gaeilge @bankofireland @ceartateanga 

Monday, August 14, 2017

A voice in the wilderness or a call to arms?

"... there is absolutely no commitment at either political or administrative level to balanced regional development, nor is there any worthwhile plan to address rural decline..."

Seosamh Ó Cuaig, is a veteran activist for basic rights, particularly though not exclusively in the Conamara and West Galway districts. He has written a thoughtful letter to editors in local newspapers throughout Ireland. It certainly reflects the position of abandonment that rural residents feel as facilities, Garda Stations, Banks, Post Offices, Basic Government Service and even schools are withdrawn from their historic communities.
"...No worthwhile plan to address rural decline..."
It has been published in some local newspapers in Waterford, Cavan, Westmeath, Roscommon and Galway. It's aim as Seosamh says is to encourage a sorely needed discussion.

Cill Chiaráin,
Conamara,
County Galway,

A chara,

The deal struck between the DUP and the British Government has a clear lesson for the people of Rural Ireland. (By Rural Ireland I mean all the areas outside the cities as outlined by the CEDRA Report, which was chaired by Pat Spillane.) We, living in these areas, need a similar strategy to wring concessions from a system which is unduly centred on Greater Dublin.

In April, Paddy McGuinness highlighted the enormity of the problem when he announced he would not be seeking reappointment to the chair of the Western Development Commission after four years in the post: “I believe strongly that there is absolutely no commitment at either political or administrative level to balanced regional development, nor is there any worthwhile plan to address rural decline,” he said.

I spent two terms as an Independent on Galway County Council, three terms on the Board of Údarás na Gaeltachta, as well as being a member of the Western Regional Authority and of the Border Midland and Western Assembly.

Early on I realised that most of our efforts were in vain. Indeed, at one meeting of the Western Regional Authority I suggested that we should all resign together to expose the whole charade.

Pessimists amongst us say that the power is in Dublin and that we can do nothing about it. Yes, but the balance of power could be in Rural Ireland. Imagine if we organised a movement and got 10 committed TDs elected on a carefully crafted rural platform.

The days of majority Government in Ireland are gone. Our 10 TDs could very well be the kingmakers after the next election.

Seosamh Ó Cuaig


If anyone of here is interested in the idea please put forward your views as a response to this or contact Seosamh directly per email ocuaig@hotmail.com.

As is so often said "something must be done!" This is something...

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.”