Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sinn Féin agus an Ghaeilge

Feb 14th 2010

Sinn Féin is serious about the Irish language. Even our political opponents acknowledge this. That means on a day to day basis that in councils across Ireland, in Teach Laighean, in the Assembly and in the European Parliament we are doing our best by the language.

Sinn Féin has fought, marched, argued and cajoled for the rights of Irish speakers. We have spent hours and hours with both governments and the unionists explaining why we believe that those who wish to live their lives through the medium of Irish should be free to do so unencumbered by legislation dating back to the Penal Laws or prejudices imposed by outdated notions of colonial superiority.

We have pointed out that this is a serious life-choice and it cries out for the same recognition and protection under law as any other section of Irish society.

What will make the defining difference in our society will be an increase in the numbers of people who choose to live their lives through the medium of Irish. Those who speak Irish (especially to their children) in their homes, at work and socially, who send their children to Gaelscoileanna and hopefully in the future, third level institutions, will change this society and make it truly bilingual.

In the meantime Sinn Féin will continue to fight for rights for Irish speakers today and everyday because it is the right thing to do. What do Irish language rights mean?

It means that Irish speakers are entitled to exactly the same rights as English speakers. It means Acht na Gaeilge. But Acht na Gaeilge is not the be all and end all of Irish language campaigning. It is a reasonable, necessary and modest legal entitlement. In this Blogs opinion it will be secured.

But all the progress to date and the wonderful renaissance and flowering of Irish has been achieved without an Acht na Gaeilge. That work is to the credit of activists, teachers, parents, and Gaeilgeoirí right across the spectrum.

That work must continue. We – by we I mean the Irish language community - will have victories but we will also have setbacks; that is the nature of struggle.

I and others in the Sinn Féin leadership have done important work with Éamon Ó Cuív, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, and Micheal Martin the Minister for Foreign Affairs and we will continue to explore ways to get Irish government support for Irish language development across the island but particularly in the north.

Both of these Ministers are committed Gaeilgeoirí. So is the Taoiseach.

That is why the government’s initial reticence about advancing the Irish language agenda at the Hillsborough talks was so exasperating.

Sinn Féin put Acht na Gaeilge and an Irish language strategy and the 1737 Administration of Justice Act, which bans the use of Irish in the courts, on the agenda. The British government resisted this. Presumably for fear of alienating the unionists or in a tactical decision to focus only on the transfer of policing and justice powers and parading issues.

Sinn Féin insisted that there be discussions on all of the outstanding aspects of the Good Friday and St. Andrew’s agreements, including Acht na Gaeilge.

Sinn Fein mapped out for the two governments their obligations on Acht na Gaeilge and exactly what they could do about it.

The St. Andrews agreement is an international agreement between the two governments.

Both governments are guarantors. Under existing legislation the British government can compel the DCAL Minister to act as required to fulfil the British government’s commitment on Acht na Gaeilge. Failure to do so would place the British clearly in default. Incredibility when Sinn Féin highlighted this some Irish government officials responded by suggesting that St. Andrews is not really an international agreement in the real sense.

If you check the statements of the Taoiseach and the British Prime Minister when they came to Hillsborough there is no mention of Irish language rights whatsoever.

Similarly in their statement released by them when they left the talks two nights and three days later there is no mention of the Irish language.

The Taoiseach did raise this issue eventually but that was only after Martin McGuinness and I had a blazing row with him and Gordon Brown.

The DUP obviously didn’t want to deal with these matters at all but they certainly know that important issues like this are not going to go away. They know that it is only a matter of time before an Acht na Gaeilge becomes a reality.

Of course, this is not a matter of coercing or forcing unionism to embrace Irish language rights. Gaeilgeoirí do have a big job to win support for these matters and to persuade others that this issue needs to be depoliticised and that the gift of an indigenous language is a national treasure and the heritage of all who live on this island, no matter about political or other allegiances.

At the same time Irish language rights cannot be withheld or reduced at the whim of any political party. Equality is equality is equality.

This Blog is fully committed to working with the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Nelson McCausland. I am pleased to reveal that he has committed to bringing forward a draft strategy to the Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

This commitment came on Wednesday February 10th in a reply to a written question from me in which I asked the DCAL Minister when he will bring forward a strategy on the Irish language.

In his answer he said:

“Since coming into office at the beginning of July 2009, I have given special attention to the development of a minority languages strategy.

It is my intention to bring forward a draft strategy to the Executive by the end of March which can go out to consultation.

One strand of this strategy will be to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language as set out in Section 28D of the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews) Act 2006.

The preparation of this draft Minority Languages Strategy will require engagement with, and commitments from, a number of other Northern Ireland departments – especially in relation to education – and from the United Kingdom government in relation to broadcasting.”

It can be taken as fact that the draft language strategy will not be what is required. But until it is Gaeilgeoirí have a duty to work positively and in good faith to bring about the necessary changes.

So too with those issues that are the responsibility of the British government. Martin McGuinness and other republican Ministers on the Executive have engaged at the British-Irish conference on this issue and with the Scottish Executive. I have engaged with Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary of State and Martin and I have talked at length with Gordon Brown on Irish language issues. We will continue all these discussions with the two governments and the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies. Bairbre de Brún MEP will also continue with her work in the European Parliament.

Our position in relation to the British government is straight forward.

The 1737 Act must go.

The British government, as part of the agreement at St. Andrews, undertook to introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and to work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. Sinn Féin has continued to hold the British government to that commitment.

It was our negotiating team which won this in the first instance and we have no intention of giving up on it.

At Hillsborough we agreed with the DUP to set up a working group to deal with outstanding elements of the St. Andrews agreement. The First and Deputy First Minister will provide a report to the Executive by the end of February detailing the level of progress made on each outstanding matter. This includes the Irish language.

They will also seek Executive approval to set up a Working Group to recommend on how progress could be made on those matters which have not been acted upon. Within four weeks of the Working Group’s initial report the First and Deputy First Minister will agree a programme to effect completion of the agreed conclusions of the Working Group.

Martin McGuinness has also raised Irish language issues directly with Peter Robinson.

In the meantime Sinn Féin Ministers will continue to support and introduce gaeilge-friendly policies in their departments, including bi-lingual services and signage, and the DUP is in no doubt about the need also for the Executive to deliver for everyone, including Gaeilgeoirí.

The Minister of Education Caitriona Ruane is doing pioneering work in respect of Irish medium education. An Ghaelscolaíocht has been put on a more secure footing across the north as it continues to expand and develop. At a time of falling enrolments and school closures across the education sector parents in increasing numbers are choosing Irish language schooling for their children. There are now 23 freestanding schools, 12 units and plans to develop more schools and nurseries over the next 18 months. Millions of pounds of funding and capital investment has been secured for the sector.

Our activists will continue with the work of winning support for the gaelicisation of communities, including An Cheathrú Gaeltachta in Belfast.
The work of our Irish language Cumainn will get support from the party leadership, as will initiatives like – Glór na Poblachta - our own Irish language magazine available from Sinn Féin shops and An Ceathrú Póilí. Or contact Niall Ó Donnghaile in our press office.

So, the Irish language cause is being actively pursued on a number of fronts by Sinn Féin.
This Blog has also been busy lobbying the British Prime Minister on the need to continue resources for building the Irish language infrastructure and the arts.

I am pleased to be able to reveal that Gordon Brown has committed the British government to carry on funding the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund for a further four years after 2011, and will provide resource to continue the development of Irish language infrastructure. The resource, including the extended funding for the Broadcast Fund will amount to £20 million.

Given that this is not coming out of the Executive budget this is a welcome development.

So, the work goes on.

But it’s bigger than Sinn Féin. We cannot change society on our own. But we can and do work with others. Our party wants to be used as a resource by those who want to create a bi-lingual society. This has to include services that ensure cradle to the grave opportunities to live through the medium of Irish, if that is your choice.

There is plenty of room for everyone in this endeavour.

It should truly be a national effort. Bígí linn.


Timothy Dougherty said...

Even a minority language, can have a important symbolic role in the life of every person.A second language by a larger and expanding minority,can make life that much more,within personal contexts and social situations. As with a all Ireland view,as Irish the constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland. Good to see a largely positive views of the language Gerry. We need to guarantee the long-term survival of Irish as the predominant community language,Foras Feasa ar Éirinn.

Paul Doran said...


In relation to the teaching of Irish through the Gaelscoileanna and especially in the management of these schools, It is my experience that the Management boards are lacking in effective management due to their insistence that members of the boards must speak Irish. I don't speak Irish
but I do my small bit to promote it.Frankly I see no reason why Boards of Management in Irish Speaking schools must conduct their business through Irish, it is critical I may say that the teaching of Irish in schools must be through Irish, but unfortunately the children and parents are lossing out because the right peple are not on the Board of Managment.I would be interested to know other peoples views on this

Anonymous said...

There you go Concubhar,hopefully this is what you asked of Sinn Fein


Concubhar said...

Taithníonn sé liom gur thug Sinn Féin freagra ar an mbrú uaimse agus ó dhaoine eile faoi dheireadh thiar. Maith sibh as sin, ar a laghad.
Níl mé ag déanamh comhghairdeas leat as ucht an forogra seo go fóíll, go bhfeicfidh mé dath airgead Gordon Brown.
Cén fath ná raibh seo luaite sa Chomhaontú ag Caislean Cromghlinne?

Eoin Ó Riain said...

Is trua nach féidir le Sinn Féin úsáid a bhaint as an teanga sa gnáth saoil. Ar leabhar SF faoi chúrsaí sláinte, oideachas, dlí agus cirt, rialtas áitiúil, nó aon ábhasr eile seachas Gaeilge agus ábahr Gaeltachta ríomh?

Is suíomh Béarla suíomh ghréasáin SF (Mar aon le gach páirtí eile!)

Is maith an rud dearchadh dearfach Gerry Adams a fhéicheáil agus go bhfuil rialtas Sasana le airgead a chuir ar fáil don teanga. Ach muna n-úsáideann Gerry agus a lucht leanúna an teanga ní féidir a chreidiúint go bhfuil siad dairíré faoi..

Anonymous said...

A chara,

I welcome much that is written here but I would add some advice which is intended in the best spirit. This refers to the strength of Irish as a spoken language.
The home is the most important community for the language, however because most parents do not speak it they cannot 'bring the language home again'. This leaves us with Gaelscoileanna. They provide the nearest space to an upbringing through Irish.
However even though they are growing, after more than 40 years only a tiny fraction of the children of the north attend them (I think between 1 and 2%).
The fact is that due to their separation from their Gaelic culture, most parents still see gaelscoileanna as suspicious, a step too far. Even in the area which holds the Gaeltacht quarter, your own constituency, only around 8% of kids attend Gaelscoileanna...
The truth is people still don't make the connection to their language and because Irish-medium does not have resources to promote itself properly and consistently in advertising and communication, the opportunities for them to hear the story are always limited.

Despite national studies showing that Gaelscoileanna are the most effect engine in creating people who can speak Gaeilge, Irish language bodies themselves have not recognised this by putting more resources into 'WHAT ACTUALLY WORKS'. The lack of a businesslike model for the language means that we continue to put too much emphasis into being seen to support projects that have a good feel instead of prioritizing what is effective. Sinn Féin sit on many of these committtee's.

The money given to television in the north has been a great success, but the resources given to perhaps potentially the most important body are very poor in comparision. InaG provides seed funds to new projects and provides the financial spark, which is often the difference between success and failure, between new Irish speaking communities and none. Yet despite that huge task before it of supporting naíscoileanna, Gaelscoileanna and meánscoileanna it has never really been able to fully thrive as it should in its role.

Our inconsistent and unfocused approach to supporting the language instead of creating communities of speakers needs to be addressed.

At a meeting at Stormont with Irish groups you were asked to talk about Sinn Féin's approach to the language, when you sent me your answer, it was a qualitative account and not a clear vision with steps, it greatly disappointed me, as it is clear to me that you have a belief in the what our language can bring.

I would urge in this work ahead that Sinn Féin and others take a step beyond what most political and indeed Irish language bodies have achieved to date. We as a community on this island need to look at what works, what creates speakers. To help facilitate people who have a sense of themselves not based on geography, but based on the knowledge that comes from our ancestors, the language can open this door in a way that nothing else can.
We need to re-frame the discussion ...Our people need support not the language, the language and the knowledge it can bring will provide much of this support.

Our approach to the revival of our people needs to be quantitative and businesslike . To date the mood music is often there but we need investment in the key areas and a business plan approach ( with heart and soul)
So in short money invested in areas that actually create speakers and in communities of speakers. There is much to do and to-date we, all of us, are only fumbling about...A new way of looking at this is needed and I believe that Sinn Féin like the rest of us have not fully engaged with WHAT WORKS.

Le gach dea-ghuí


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

So does this mean there is now money to restart Gaeloiliuint and decommission Comhairle and Foras and promote the language like it was actively promoted a decade ago?

Juan said...

tá sé seo go maith, Gaeilge Abu!

Anonymous said...

Although I am not an Irish speaker I believe Irish speaker have the right to converse in their own language. If we compare the language with the Welsh and what they have achieved you will find nation that has been reborn with national pride. Irish is not a political football it is our right be you catholic, protestant, hindu, jew or muslim it is our language and it should be embrassed as the Welsh have done with theirs

Seán Mór said...

Reading this, there is no doubt that Sinn Féin faced, and continue to face, major political obstacles to the advancement of the Irish language; ranging from DUP total opposition through to Irish Government reticence.

Still, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that the Irish language seems to be moving backwards instead of forwards. The GFA had several paragraphs in relation to the language. The St Andrews agreement had one line in relation to Irish. And this most recent agreement, hailed as 'the coming of age' of the 'process' here, has had the very use of the word 'Irish language' successfully purged from the text. How the term 'mutual respect' could be inserted into a document that so obviously had purged the word 'Irish language' out of it is beyond me.

Not only is the Acht na Gaeilge not on the cards, but it is looking as though even the woolly notion of a strategy is even going to be more woolly by the time it is presented.

Of course, the blame for this lies mostly with the other parties rather than Sinn Féin, but if you sign an agreement such as this one then you are also as much responsible for what is NOT in it as you are about what is in it.

It is difficult not to welcome the £20 million over the next 4 or 5 years, so some credit must go for achieving that. But it must also be said that the bulk of it is going to maintain something that is currently being provided, rather than being anything extra or new.

As a member of the Irish-speaking community here I have come to the conclusion that the language is not regarded with sufficient seriousness, even by its most ardent supporter in the recent talks, Sinn Féin. The question of the language is the litmus test of how much the 'embryonic new improved northern statelet' intends to embrace an Irish identity within its jurisdiction. So far, it has failed dismally, and those most entrusted to ensure its inclusion have been shown to acquiesce to its exclusion when really put to the test.

Anonymous said...

Its my personal opinion as a relatively young man(31) in America that all Irish peoples on planet earth should have the opportunity to learn Gaelic as a second or even first language. Every culture over here uses there native tongue as a personal identity. For some reason I've noticed that the Gaelic languages are not doing as strong as say Spanish or Italian for example. Maybe the Irish government as a whole can offer a reGaelification program like a free Irish language and history class on the internet or something. Personally I know a little Irish which I learned from spending a lot of time with my grandma as a kid in New York. That was possible 30 years ago because the older generation spoke more Gaelic. The imigrants coming here now know less and don't teach their American children. Its time Celtic culture to be reborn and recognized for its beauty and individualism. Hopefully unification can bring about a rebirth of Eirenach culture around the world.

Daithí said...


I don't recall much mention of this issue during the course of last summer's Sinn Féin Horse & Pony in New York and San Francisco.

Linda Coleman said...

What I always say is this: the human condition is too complex to be expressed with only a few languages--we need every one of them.

Good work, Sinn Féin, and good luck to you.

Ed Feighan said...

Hi Gerry,Just want to let you know that our prayers and thoughts are with you and Colette at this time. Ed F.

Linda Coleman said...

Gerry, my husband and I join Ed Feighan in extending to you & Colette our prayers and best wishes.

John M O Donoghue said...

Cuirim fáilte roimh ráiteas SF i leith an Ghaeilge.