• April 9, 2012


Irish Language – Positive Census Results but Major Threats Loom

The Convenor of the Celtic League has issued a statement on the Irish language following the release of data from the 2011 Census in Ireland.

When the Census data from 2011 is compared with figures from 2002, the situation looks fairly positive, but as Convenor, Cathal Ó Luain, comments, even though the figures are an increase on the numbers of Irish speakers recorded in previous Census data and should be welcomed, the overall position is “precarious”. Mr Ó Luain adds that “little progress has been made on the use of Irish as a community language outside [the Gaeltacht] “, which is disappointing. This reality should be of concern to the Irish government and those with responsibility for promoting and protecting the language.

Data for the 2002 compared to the 2011 Census results can be found below Mr O Luain’s statement.

“The 2011 Irish census results show 1.77 M people declaring they can speak Irish. Of course this is a very positive figure; it has been growing in every census in the last 20+ years, and is to be welcomed. What is disappointing is that it is apparent that the vast majority of the 1.7 M who claim they can speak Irish never do. Only 77,185 speak Irish every day (outside the educational system) inclusive of Gaeltacht speakers. That is 4.5% of the population of the state. It would seem the 1.77M is more an indicator of support for the language in some form or a base to be harnessed. There is a need to translate this good will into the reality of using Irish as a communal and family language throughout the country.

“Language activists in Gaeltacht areas would be very sceptical of the reality of the figures quoted for the Gaeltacht, as they would say that the numbers of those who use Irish in the family and everday are very much less than the 66,238 speakers declared to be in the Gealtacht. The detailed figures show declines in a number of the smaller Gaeltachtaí although the Conamara Gaeltacht has strengthened, with almost half ot the daily users of Irish residing there.

“The figures also show the failure of the educational system with a third in the age group 10-19 stating they cannot speak Irish. While opponents of the position of Irish as a necessary language in the education system may seize on this it should be taken as a wakeup call for the Dept of Education to ensure teaching methods that produce fluent speakers are used, with Gaeltacht linked schemes in place, and that Irish language medium schools are properly supported with regard to aiming at a considerable increases in their numbers in all parts of the country and the necessary support when established.

“The overall position is that the Gaeltacht is still in a precarious state while little progress has been made on the use of Irish as a community language outside it.

“The 20 year strategy for the Irish Language aims for 250,000 daily speakers to be achieved within the 20 years (almost 2 gone already and no concrete steps taken on implementation). It does not seem likely this will happen as matters exist now, certainly not with plans by Foras na Gaeilge for a New Funding Scheme for Irish language voluntary bodies which is trying to force short term project related funding arrangements on them instead of providing the steady financial support needed to found Irsh nursery schools, Gaelscoileanna at primary and second level and iniatives to bring the language into everyday use. Incidentally the voluntary groups get a third of the Foras budget, the other 2/3 is spent on the Foras bureaucracy with no talk of cut backs on that.

“The North South Ministerial Council ( Foras na Gaeilge, is one of the few cross border bodies that emerged from the Belfast agreement) mandated a three month consultation period for bodies and the public which finished on Monday.

“A submission was sent on behalf of the Irish Branch on the New Funding Schemes opposing them strongly.”

The data, released on March 29th 2012 was for the Irish Republic only and will be followed by further figures for the North of Ireland in September 2012. Meanwhile data regarding the Celtic languages in the UK (excluding North of Ireland and Scotland) may not be available until February 2013, but will include data for the Cornish language for the first time.

Census Data comparison for Ireland (excluding the North):

Total population in Irish Republic:

Daily speakers:
2002 365,541 – 8.65%
2011 519,181 -11.88%

Claiming Ability to speak Irish:
1,570,894 – 40.10%
1,774,437 – 41.4%

Population of the Gaeltacht:

Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht:
62,157 – 71.84%
66,238 – 68.55%

Other languages in 2011:
Polish -119,526
French – 56,430
Lithuanian -31,635


Irish Census Data:


UK Census Data:

For comment or clarification on this news item in the first instance contact:
Rhisiart Tal-e-bot,
General Secretary,
Celtic League
Tel: 0044 (0)1209 319912
M: 0044 (0)7787318666

The General Secretary will determine the appropriate branch or General Council Officer to respond to your query.



The Celtic League has branches in the six Celtic Countries. It works to promote cooperation between these countries and campaigns on a broad range of political, cultural and environmental matters. It highlights human rights abuse, monitors all military activity and focuses on socio-economic issues.

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