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