Friday, May 14, 2010

“Culture and Language in 21st Century Belfast – A Catalyst for Change”

This morning the second bi-annual Gaeltacht Quarter conference took place in Colaíste Feirste.

Entitled the Destiny Decade – Deichniúr an Chinniúna – it had four broad themes. Looking at the challenges and opportunities of community development; examine how local areas can develop strategies to attract business; look at how education infrastructure planning can help local areas and examine how regeneration can contribute to good relations.

I was asked to speak and my remarks focussed on “Culture and Language in 21st Century Belfast – A Catalyst for Change”

Below are my remarks which focussed on “Culture and Language in 21st Century Belfast – A Catalyst for Change”

Ar dtús ba mhaith liom fearadh na fáilte a chur roimh gach duine chuig Coláiste Feirste i gcroílár Iarthar Bhéal Feirste.
Agus mo buiochas fosta daoibh mar seans a chuig sibh domh a caint libh ar an maidin geal seo.

The 21st century will see significant changes to the population and infra-structure of Ireland as we seek to compete in an ever more competitive global market.

A recent report – entitled Infrastructure for an Island Population of Eight Million – by the Irish Academy of Engineering in partnership with Intertrade Ireland, has mapped out some of the likely changes.

The report predicts that within 20 years this island will have a population of 8 million, with 4 million people living along the Belfast Dublin corridor.

It believes that with the appropriate infrastructure investment this corridor can compete with other major European urban zones.

And it argues for major infrastructure investment in the growth city regions of Ireland, including Belfast.

Leaving aside, for the sake of todays discussion, the ongoing political movement towards the end of the union with Britain and towards the reunification of the Irish people, the outworking of this report means greater and closer economic co-operation and harmonisation on this island.

It means as part of this transition, in the short to medium term, the movement of fiscal powers and the management of the north’s economy away from London and back to Belfast.

As the political institutions evolve and strengthen and deliver and as the all-Ireland elements deepen, our language and culture will play an increasingly important role in building the economy, ending inequality and bring people together.
Tá mé an-dóchasach faoin todhchaí.

The opportunities are amazing. The challenges will be formidable also.

Ach níor chúlaigh lucht na Gaeilge ó rud beag trioblóide, i mBéal Feirste ná in áit ar bith eile.

But the Irish language community in Belfast has met and overcome challenges before.
So, I am very hopeful for the future.

In partnership with business, and with the voluntary and community sector and with the two governments, I believe the resurgence in our language and culture, and the strategic management of its potential, can make a significant contribution to making Belfast a better more prosperous place.

Much has happened over recent years.

The decades of conflict which dominated the latter part of the 20th century have ended.

The peace process is transforming Belfast.

There is a power sharing Executive and Assembly, all-Ireland institutions, including Foras na Gaeilge, and a political stability that would have been unthinkable only a few short years ago.

However, if the promise of change and progress is to be realised then the structured political and religious discrimination and inequalities which remain deeply embedded in society here, must be ended.

That must include an end to the institutional and political opposition that exists to the Irish language and culture.

Tá dúshlán roimh choiste na Ceathrú Gaeltachta má tá siad – má tá muid – le chéile, chun an aisling a bhaint amach.

An Ceathrú Gaeltachta will meet its ambitious goal of becoming a vibrant cultural quarter. It will develop the services, institutions and resources that this will require.

But this will be resisted. Strategies and partnerships and alliances are needed to overcome this resistance.

This work can be assisted in a logical and rational way by drawing on the abundance of evidence which prove that language and culture and the arts can be a key driver in the process of regeneration and building of sustainable communities.

Our language and culture is tied up in our place names and townlands, in the English that is spoken here, in our music and poetry.

The history of the Irish language and culture in Belfast is a proud history.

Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brún attended the conference

Agus tá ardmholadh ag dul chuig Forbairt Feirste, go háirithe Jake agus Feargal, as an leabhar beag seo a chuir siad le chéile – ag leagan amach stair na teanga i mBéal Feirste. Jab maith, déanta go maith.

It is a rich history which embraces many from the protestant but particularly the Presbyterian community.

People like Robert Mac Adam and others who protected and sustained the Irish language, poetry, music and dance through very difficult years of persecution.

They understood the importance of the language and culture.

They ran Irish language classes, published books, collected oral history and music.

We can be sure that they would be delighted at the current revival in the Irish language and culture.

Tá sé ráite agam cheana nár chóir go mbeadh eagla ar dhuine ar bith roimh an Ghaeilge. Is le pobal uile na hÉireann í, thuaidh ‘is theas. Ná bac le creideamh, ná le polaitíocht ná le rud ar bith eile.

There is now a thriving, vibrant activist community in this city.

Thousands of our children have and are passing through Irish medium education.

They enter education at the age of 3 and have spent their entire pre-primary, primary and post-primary education through the medium of the Irish language.

Much of the credit for this can be traced to the Gaeltacht on the Shaws Road and the quiet determination of those who ran the Ard Scoil and An Cumann Cluain Ard.

The conflict too radicalised many, especially the thousands of political prisoners who learned Irish while incarcerated.

They brought the language back into their communities and played a pivotal role in creating a new future for the language and culture in the north.

An Ceathrú Gaeltachta is the 21st century manifestation of this remarkable growth in the Irish language and culture.

There will be a Ceathrú Gaeltachta because there is a growing community of citizens who wish to live our lives through Irish.

That is our right.

The regeneration of Belfast has to take that into account.

The reshaping of our society and regeneration, in whatever form it takes, must help change the patterns of inequality that exist in our society.

So, the development of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta provides both a route toward equality as well as a tool for regeneration.

At the core of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta is this school, Coláiste Feirste, the fastest growing Irish medium post primary school in Ireland.

An Cultúrlann Mac Adam O Fiaich is a vibrant centre of culture.

Close by is St. Mary’s University which also has an energetic Irish language section.

And all around are local businesses and communities eager to promote the Irish language and to grasp its regenerative and business potential.

For many reasons, global as well as local we need a new economy.

This should include a greater focus on culture based projects designed to generate new employment and revenue and create a climate of regeneration for disadvantaged areas.

The growth of language and culture based projects and districts in cities will act as an economic drawing power which can transform areas.

A vibrant cultural quarter can also make a neighbourhood a more desirable place to live and work.

Successful culture based projects attract people and business.

Belfast now has more visitors than ever before.

So my friends An Ceathrú Gaeltachta is much more than a quarter for Gaels, though that in itself will be a very fine thing.

The development of our language is a catalyst for change, for regeneration, for business as well as the enrichment and the improvement of the quality of all our lives in this city and on our island.

It is a win – win situation.

Tá an deis againn féin anois.

Mise agus Jake Mac Siacais of Forbairt Feirste who chaired the conference


Timothy Dougherty said...

Language and Culture and Business Gerry, a principle activity in our lifes. Being a Educator and International business specialist , that comes under my area of interest and studies.This sounds like a good immediate objective, a good collectively thinking view. The commercial and financial service, would seem to be of rightful concern.
Brings to mind my last visit to Hawaii ,The State of Hawaii has two official languages recognized in its 1978. Hawaiian shall be required for public acts and transactions only as provided by law" Culture can be factor , the Irish Language needs protection under Law. Some Irish cultural influences are strong enough to affect the United States. I like the way your thinking Gerry , think ing a head. láidir bród and misneach Gerry

Anonymous said...

To start off with Gerry, i definately do not expect you to publish what i have to say here , so heres what i have to say, i have always voted sf and up untill this week would expect to definately do so for the forseeable future, then comes the bombshell!!!!!!!!!!sf and dup leadership and brits et al have decided to push through legislature that makes it a jailable offence for fifty or more people to congregate without giving a months notice to the powers that be in stormont!Now i have to ask myself whether i live in the north of korea or ireland! As a free voice of the people of west belfast can you outline to myself what line you will be taking on this , or will yous just take the stance of the belfast telegraph and others during the civil rights campaign and put the head in the sand.i would love to know whether or not gerry you will be calling for your constituents to take to the streets or not or will an alister campbell like spin be put out to say that its because of the likes of errigi etc.enough is enough, you can fool some of the people some of the time but you will not fool all of the people all of the time! Feeling insulted and Angry!!!!!!1

West-of--the-Bann said...

Please correct my history, if I am wrong.
In 2003-04 Gaeloiliuint laid the foundation stone for a Gaeltacht Quarter at Springvale, An Bradan Feasa, an Irish language university, but the Sinn Fein leadership and the sponsors of an anti-Gaeloiliuint campaign and who were all speaking at this conference today at Colaiste Feirste could not stomach the thought of a cross-community, cross-channel, working class Irish language initiative by the people who successfully help found six dozen gaelscoleanna - without one penny from Sinn Fein - and so the SF leadership, again all those speaking today, blocked all funding after a long-standing
whispering campaign that "An Bradan Feasa only cared about the Shankill and not their own community."
Let us all have a little transparency called the truth and please stop the revisionist hypocrisy.
Imagine where West Belfast would be today with the hundreds of new university related jobs created had Sinn Fein not been so anti-community and anti-Protestant, and considered anything that benefited poor working-class people a 'threat' to their rule.

Concubhar said...

As a Gaeilgeoir, Gerry, you will understand term 'Beart de réir briathar'... Your talk at the Ceathrú Gaeltachta conference missed one major element - Sinn Féin's role in closing down 'Lá Nua', the only Irish language daily newspaper ever published and a potential centrepiece for any Gaeltacht quarter.

The reality is that a newspaper gives a community a voice and when that voice didn't echo your own, your party allowed the newspaper to close when it would have been better advised to keep it open and to build on what had been achieved.

For all your talk about 'the Gaeltacht Quarter', you're short where it matters - delivery.....

No doubt this message will not see the light of day on your blog - but then again meaningful debate doesn't seem to be part of the modus operandi of Sinn Féin....

Micheal said...

The Irish language and culture deserves equal respect with other languages and cultures and Sinn Fein do a great job in standing up for Gaelic Irish culture.

In fact, Sinn fein are the best supporters of Irish language and culture out of all the political parties and any other organisations too, in my opinion.

And the comments by anonymous, WOTB, and Concubhar demonstrate more of a axe to grind bonkers attitude than any constructive criticism or comments, that would indicate an action-oriented love for the language and culture. It makes me angry to read their self-seeking comments.

Anonymous, why don't you put your name to your comment, and do you really think some law would stop me and fifty of my friends taking to the streets in protest if we were angry eneogh with just cause. Snap out of it man and try living in the real world.

WOTB, I've met lots of Irish people like you who want to do all great and lovely things for every other community and then turn around and treat you're own like dirt. You're not even the Doughnut, you're the hole in the Doughnut.

Timmy Dougherty is the best for comments on here.

Sinn fein is Irish language and culture.

West-of--the-Bann said...

"WOTB, I've met lots of Irish people like you who want to do all great and lovely things for every other community and then turn around and treat you're own like dirt. You're not even the Doughnut, you're the hole in the Doughnut."

Why can't you explain why Sinn Fein destroyed An Bradan Feasa at Springvale?
Why can't you explain why Sinn Fein shut down meanscoileanna in Derry and Cookstown that others founded?
Are you too parochial and bigoted to do that?
I put my credentials and what I have done against anyone on this island.
Go raibh maith agat,

Gael Abu said...

Michael, a chara,
You are barking up the wrong tree!!
Concubhar has earned his spurs plenty of times over. He does not need to defend himself.
And West of the Bann created over 1,000 educational jobs in many communities probably including yours.
It is a really stupid move to show such disappreciation.
It is no wonder foreign companies do not want to invest in nationalist areas when this sort of closed-minded, ignorant mindset is at play.
Perhaps, you should emigrate and see how harshly the real world treats Irish people who have not been coddled as you have since birth.

Fionnuala Perry said...

Michael, I would think twice before breaking the law. You just might find that, one of those people out of Sinn Fein that you are in such a rush to defend might have to tell the PSNI on you. (Won't get my post on now!)

Would not worry whether or not a person, publishes their name as mine seems to block me getting anything posted. Strange that, considering my family are lifelong republicans. My da promoted the Irish language all his life and at a time when it was less than popular to do so.

Michael,Timothy sounds like a forever friend of Sinn Fein. Sounds a bit like yourself in actual fact, maybe thats why you are such a fan of his posts?

Micheal said...

West Of The Bann,

You cannot cherry pick Irish Language and culture. Our History and Heritage didn't materialise out of thin air. People worked hard and sacrafised much to create that.

They did that so every one could share in it, own it and love it, not pilfer it to keep for their own ends while desecrating the memory of those who bequethe the spirit of freedom to a people faithful and true, with hearts of Lions and minds to record and account for everything that is ours.

I apologise for calling you the hole in the doughnut.

West-of--the-Bann said...

"You cannot cherry pick Irish Language and culture. Our History and Heritage didn't materialise out of thin air. People worked hard and sacrafised much to create that.

They did that so every one could share in it, own it and love it, not pilfer it to keep for their own ends while desecrating the memory of those who bequethe the spirit of freedom to a people faithful and true, with hearts of Lions and minds to record and account for everything that is ours."

Please kindly explain to me and the people of west Belfast why Sinn Fein destroyed An Bradan Feasa, the Irish language university at Springvale?
Why did Sinn Fein destroy what would have been now a couple of hundred education-related jobs created in an area of very high deprivation?
Why has Sinn Fein destroyed Irish language secondary education throughout Ulster with the sole expection of Colaiste Feirste on the Falls?
Why did Sinn Fein block all funding to Gaeloiliunt which founded 5 dozen gaelscoileanna, North and South?
Why did Sinn Fein create Comhairle and Foras other than to make sure the Catholic Church could continue to dominate education and not local communities as practised by Gaeloiliunt? Gaeloiliuint created over 1,000 teaching and education-related jobs.
Why did Sinn Fein close down so many gaelscoileanna? What was the issue? Was it jealousy and spite?
None of this is cherry picking. It goes on and on and on.
It is a desecration of the highest order and some would rightly call it linguistic genocide.
Please kindly explain cen fath?

Micheal said...

West of the Bann,

Is it really the case that Sinn Fein did do all these things you describe in such apocrophilic language, or is there, perhaps more to this than meets your eye.
You come across as being hostile to Sinn Fein and I'd like to know if there's a reason for that hostility other than the shenannigans with these language schools and the impact of it all on "jobs" which is your main theme. Did you ever loose a job, by any chance?

Irish language schools and cultural education centers are not going to benefit society in a meaningful way unless they reflect the republican ethos of gaelic Irish language and culture.

Employment creation optimally benefits society as part of an integrated approach which enhances the values, ethics and cultural dynamism of the community.

West-of--the-Bann said...

Michael, a chara,

"Irish language schools and cultural education centers are not going to benefit society in a meaningful way unless they reflect the republican ethos of gaelic Irish language and culture."

With all due respect, you need to get out and about and see what has happened over the past decade in multiple communities and not what is portrayed by some media, and you can start with An Bradan Feasa at Springvale. If people play stupid when you ask the question, you will have your answer. If you have a republican ethos, you will not like what you discover.

Then you need to ask what happened to Gaeloiliuint, the sole authority for Irish medium education and business projects in the North? And again, if people play stupid, you will once again have your answer.

And for the record, the Irish language belongs to all communities, and unfortunately, the term "republican ethos of gaelic Irish language and culture" is what is called an oxymoron. Parents in many communities who wanted an Irish education for their children but were denied that right by Comhairle, a Sinn Fein and Catholic Church proxy, will dutifully tell you the cold hard reality on the ground.

I wish you well in your discovery.