• February 25, 2011


The political party that has been widely tipped to form the next Irish government following this month’s general election, have confirmed that if elected they will remove Irish as a compulsory subject for Leaving Certificate level in schools.

Fine Gael (FG) candidate and Deputy Leader, Dr James Reilly, repeated his promise this month that if elected the party would remove Irish as a subject in the country’s School Leaving Certificate. Following the rapid demise of support for Fianna Fáil (FF), who has ruled Ireland for the longest period of any of the Irish political parties and has always traditionally been the largest party in Irish politics, it looks certain that the right wing Fine Gael political party will be voted into government, probably with Labour as Coalition partners but there is a possibilty they might be able to form a government on their own. The Fine Gael leader, Enda Kenny, confirmed the party’s stance on removing Irish as an essential subject for the Leaving Certificate emphatically, ironically in a TG4 debate where all three main party (FF, FG, Labour) leaders spoke in fluent Irish on their policies. The Labour leader Eamonn Gilmore strongly supported the retention of Irish as a core subject for the Leaving Certificate.

However some commentators are saying that Fine Gael’s gain will be the Irish language’s loss, with some calling the party’s language policy, `crude’, `cultural vandalism’ `puzzling’ and `unsettling’. A well attended meeting in the Conamara Gaeltacht outlined the serious affects the move would have on the economic, social and linguistic life in the Gaeltachaí where Irish language summer colleges give a vital economic boost, generate long term commitment of students to the language and reinforce the Gaeltacht communities use of Irish as an everyday language.

On another issue, an anti Irish kick from the outgoing FF government, a large meeting of teachers from Gaelscoileanna took place in Athlone to protest against the edict issued from the Dept of Education (see Carn 148) reducing the pupil teacher ratios in Irish medium schools.

The Irish Language has been brought to the forefront of the election in a list of demands presented by Gaelscoileanna and Irish language organisations who called on all candidates to respond to them and on voters to query candidates.

• Retain Irish as a core subject in the Leaving Certificate
• An appropriate syllabus for Higher Level Irish in the Leaving Certificate
• Protect the pupil teacher ratio in Irish medium schools
• A redeployment panel for teachers in Irish medium schools
• Immediate recognition for Gaelscoil Ráthó (now heading into its second year)
• A transparent process for the founding of new Irish medium schools
• Appropriate accommodation for Irish medium schools
• Teachers training through the medium of Irish
• Proper recognition for Irish medium units in post primary schools

Nevertheless, according to the most recent opinion poll for the Irish Times newspaper, Fine Gael is outstripping the other political parties with 37% of the vote, followed by Labour who are on 19%. It is obvious to language activists that Fine Gael’s policy is flawed. Not only is the policy very unpopular with Irish voters, but it looks likely to quickly reverse the language revitalisation process that has occurred over the last few decades with TG4, the Official Languages Act and the Language Commissioner. Irish language learning needs to be compulsory in schools if the language is to survive in Ireland, just like it is in Wales, where it has been compulsory since 2000.

To make a rough comparison with the Irish situation, we can look at Wales. This month (9th February) the Welsh Language Measure gave Welsh an official status in Wales – in theory at least. In Ireland, the Irish language has constitutional status as the national and first official language of Ireland, which has been the case since Irish independence.

A similar number of children are taught through Irish medium education as in Wales, but the Welsh language is spoken on a daily basis by almost 400 000 people in Wales alone, yet in Ireland (the Republic at least) Irish is only spoken on a daily basis by about 85 000 people. Even if we were to add say 10% of the 150 000 people in the north `with some knowledge of Irish’, the figures are still disappointing. When it is considered that children learn Irish in the Republic for 12 years throughout their education – which has been the case for some time – and there are so few people speaking the language on a daily basis, there is obviously something wrong. Something needs to be done to reverse the Irish language shift, but it most certainly is not giving pupils the option of dropping the subject for another choice; at least if the language is to continue to survive.

In pursuing this language policy Fine Gael could well be issuing the death knoll for Irish and it is no thanks to Fianna Fáil for giving Fine Gael the opportunity to do this. The Irish general election is this Friday (25th February) and as Irish Senator Fidelma Healy Eames said last week, the Fine Gael policy will inevitably cost the party votes, but not enough it seems for them to lose the election, so why should they care? The point is that the future of the language cannot and should not be left up to students and a few thousand signatures on a petition; Irish is too important for that. Ireland is suffering deep economic difficulties at the moment and some may be thinking that there are better things to worry about but measures which will undoubtedly adversely affect the Gaeltacht and Irish Language will only make recovery of self esteem more difficult. As Sinn Fein’s (who are poised to do well in the election) Irish and Gaeltacht Affairs Minister, Pearse Doherty TD, said last week, the policy will also have economic reverberations, especially on the Gaeltacht economy, where 25 000 students study, adding:

“We believe that the future of the Irish language depends upon the continuing existence of sustainable Gaeltacht communities where Irish remains the primary language of the community. These communities must be protected, supported and developed.”

The Irish Branch of the League strongly supports the list of demands above and calls on voters only to vote for candidates who support these.

This article prepared for Celtic News by Rhisiart Tal-e-bot General Secretary Celtic League in conjunction with the Irish branch. For follow-up comment or clarification contact:

Tel: 0044 (0)1209315884

M: 0044(0)7787318666

J B Moffatt (Mr)
Director of Information
Celtic League


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