Monday, February 29, 2016

What connects a pony and cart in 1905 & drink driving in 2015! #CeartaTeanga

Language Rights: What a distance between the attitude today and the mind of Pearse!

Last Tuesday was the anniversary of a remarkable event in Irish, and possibly European history. An Ombdsman resigned. That may not be remarkable in itself but he fact that this ombudsman resigned on principle is. He resigned rather that be judged as "complicit in deceit."

Shortly before his resignation took place Seán Ó Cuirreáin said "The choice I had was to stand aside from my appointment as Coimisinéir Teanga on principle to draw attention to these matters or to continue in my role and, consequently, to participate in a pretence.  I am absolutely certain that I made the correct decision." (Oireachtas Sub Committee 23 Jan 2014)
Seán Ó Cuirreáin agus Uachtarán na hÉireann
It created a great sadness, not to say anger in the people who had felt more and more oppressed for many years now - the Irish speaking community in the Gaeltacht and throughout the rest of the country. They voiced their anger in large demonstrations in Dublin and Belfast attended by thousands of people. It also marked an extraordinary demonstration in South Conamara, Slán le Seán,  to mark this event and a very real affection for this man whom the President of Ireland called "one of the most courteous people I have ever met," and paid tribute to his " integrity and intellectual honesty." 

He has correctly maintained a strict silence since his resignation for a reasonable time. This has allowed his successor in office time to settle in and familiarise himself with the office.

Two court cases!
The journal has invited a number of people to write articles on various aspects of life as part of the commemorations of the centenary of the 1916 Rising. One of these was Seáon Ó Cuirreáin and his piece was published on Thursday morning. It is entitled "100 years since the rising and compulsory English is all but inevitable!" (Gaeilge). In this article he compares two courtcases just over a century apart to illustrate the attitude of the State systems, albeit two different states, to the language, that language which is the oldest living written language in Europe.

P.H. Pearse - Counsel before Kings Bench
In this article he compares two legal cases. The first was a famous case in 1905, taken by the then British state against Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde of Craoslach in Co Donegal. He had been arrested by the local constabulary because the name he was obliged to have on the side of his cart was "illegible." It had been written in the old Gaelic Script. He was found guilty and fined two shillings. The case was appealed to the Court of the Kings Bench. P.H. Pearse was the defending counsel but the court judged that it was illegal for a person to use his name in Irish or in the Irish script.

One hundred and ten years later Mihai Avadenei, a Romanian, was arrested and found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol. On appeal he pointed out that the law had transgressed his language rights as the document, issued in Store Street Garda Station, in which the details of the levels on alcohol in his blood was in English alone whereas the law, enacted four years previously, clearly stated that it ought to be in both Irish and English. He had not claimed that he was an Irish speaker but relied solely on the wording of the law.

The Government regarded this not as a failure of the Garda authorities to act on the law but rather as a weakness in the law itself. An emergency ruling was issued to change this law stating that this form should be in English or in Irish rather than bilingual.

An Trucailín Donn

Lá aonaigh san earrach 's mé 'taisteal go triopallach,
Trasna an droichid i Muileann na hAbhann,
Sea chonaic mé Bobby gurbh ainm dó Thuigyme,
'S é ag druidim 'mo choinne go teann.

Agus óro bog liom í, bog liom í bog liom í,

Óro bog liom í an trucailín donn.
Óro bog liom í, druid liom í, corraigh í,
Óro bog liom í an trucailín donn.

Ba ghairid go bhfaca mé asal is trucail bheag,

Chugainn ar sodar faoi Mhícheál an Gabha,
Siúd leis an Bobby: "This cart has no signature,
Only a lingo I cannot make out!"

Agus óro bog liom í...

"Your name my good man, and answer right quickly now."

"Amharc ar an trucail, nó an bhfuileann tú dall?
Tá m'ainmse breacaithe i dteanga a thuigimse
Is fógraím tusa go hIfreann lom!"

Agus óro bog liom í...

"Ten shillings with costs or a fortnight's imprisonment,

Next on the list. Take this reprobate down!"
"Cuirtear faoi ghlasa mé feasta, a ghlagaire,
Pingin de m'sheilbh ní fheicfidh sibh ann."

Agus óro bog liom í...

Níl trucail gan ainm bhreá lacanta legible,

Gaeilge le feiceáil i Muileann na hAbhann
Agus ceardaithe an bhaile sea tugaid ar Thuigyme,
Fós ná "Trucailín Mhicín an Gabha".

This is a popular little song written commemorating the story of Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde's little brown cart.
Ó Cuirreáin states that it is difficult to believe that there was a deficiency in a law that was amended urgently in 2015. There was however a significant failing in the following of this law by the Garda Authorities. The simple cure for this problem was an direction to the Garda to amend their system fully to comply with the law as originally formatted in 2011. However for some reason it appears it was easier to change the law than to fulfill it.

These two court cases - 110 years apart - show how difficult it appears to be to create or to allow a space in the the administration of the law and the courts for "the language of the Gael!"

Not only the courts
But, maintains the former Coimisnéir, this problem does not apply to the courts alone.

In 1928, his research has shown, the Government of the day decided to allow a period of three years for all state services to be available in the language of the people to Gaeltacht areas. His research further discovered that between 1928 and 1966 this direction was postponed 54 times for a further six to twelve months. (see report on the opening of Coláiste na hÉireann - 4 Sept 2013). In fact this regulation was never implemented.

In 1974 Richie Ryan, then Minister for Finance, announced as a further strengthening rather than a weakening of the position of Irish the abolition of a requirement of knowledge of Irish in the civil service. Indeed after his appointment as Comisinéir, Seán Ó Cuirreáin discovered that the points system that was instituted to protect the use of Irish in state services was never correctly operated. When this was pointed the Government instituted an even worse system despite the fact that the Coimisinéir wrote to both the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste of the day that the State employees would provide a service in Irish on a "voluntary" system. It is obvious he maintains, that this is a further marginalisation of services from the state in the National Language.

Quite frankly he says, "it appears to me that it is a cynical exercise, without any advantage to language rights, to promise the community language rights in law without ensuring an effective system to ensure the availability of those rights; that is not the case at present." (our translation)

He maintains that there are indeed some advances for Irish, for instance in communications media and the education system. But it is cast to one side more than ever in the public administration system and there is no sign to be seen at present that this will change!

There are of course some state employees who support and understand the position of the language but they are a minority and sidelined. Over all are those for whom, in the words of An tUachtarán, Micheál D Ó hUiginn some years ago, "..the Irish language isn’t half dead enough.” There are those too who believe there is a simple answer to those who select, or who have been born speaking Irish - "Speak Irish with each other but speak English to us!"

What a distance there is between that attitude and that which he imagines was strongly in the heart of Pearse of an Ireland "Free and Gaelic" and he defending the position of Niall Mac Giolla Bhríde before the Kings Bench in 2005.

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