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The Irish language is being left to wither on the vine

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Inis Mór islanders in currachs meeting the ferry from Galway in 1970, a time when the Irish language was more widely spoken by people on the Aran Islands

We spent the Bank Holiday weekend on Inis Mór and as always had a fantastic time there.

The gap between life there and the mainland is not as stark as it was even when I was a child three decades or more ago.

I have distinct memories of the currachs coming out to meet the Naomh Éanna in Inis Oírr and Inis Meáin, and of lifestock being ‘swam’ out to be hoisted aboard. And even in my time with The Connacht Tribune, seeing all the older people on Inis Meáin filing down to Mass in their traditional báiníns, criosanna and shawls.

But there is still something different about the islands and life there. For one, the three islands remain, to varying degrees, some of the last outposts for native Irish in the country.

While on Inis Mór the Gaeilge these days is no longer a garden without weeds, it’s still spoken widely although the younger generations all speak English as adeptly as everybody else in Ireland.

Time doesn’t stand still. In the past generation technology has made just about everything accessible and just about everything these days in the technology generation is anglophone.

Sure, even when John Millington Synge visited Inis Mór over a century ago, there was plenty of English in Kilronan (and that may have prompted his decision to move onto Inis Meáin). But if the future of Irish was under threat, then it was a very distant one, as distant as somebody contemplating back in the 1950s the day that oil supplies would be depleted.

There’s a nostalgia or affection for the language and platitudes are expressed that it would be a shame for it to die.

However, when it comes to making any commitment to save the language, we go into the realm of the banal. It ranges from those who say (naively in some cases, maliciously in others) that if enough people are enthusiastic about it sure won’t the language survive, to those who say that there should be a limit to State support and that shouldn’t include any obligation on any State department to conduct any of its business in Irish; or for anybody to be obliged to learn Irish in school; or for any teacher in the State to have enough Irish to be able to teach Irish in Irish to his or her pupils rather than in English.

And then there’s the problem of the last few places in the country where Irish is spoken as a first language. The evidence on the ground is that the minority language is being swamped by English and that parents are fighting a losing battle to bring up their kids in Irish.

Should the State be doing its damnedest to ensure that the conditions are right to allow families grow up bilingually, to retain that rich texture of Irish, to have Irish as a true living language, rather than a kind of strange code used by a small minority class in cities who have learned it in much the same way that priests used to learn Latin in order to communicate with priests elsewhere?

There are some that say that sure don’t we have Hiberno English and isn’t that a very rich form of language. Yes, it was but not any more. And the reason it was rich was that it was heavily influenced by Gaelic. But as that influence has waned it has given away to an English that will be soon indistinguishable from, like, American English. So what does all this have to do with politics.

Well, the decision by Enda Kenny to appoint Joe McHugh as Minister for the Gaeltacht was symptomatic of the views expressed by Thomas Mason a generation ago. There’s a 20 year strategy for the Irish language to which the Government has committed but has done nothing.

The only thing Kenny has said of note in recent years is that he wants to scrap compulsory Irish for the Leaving Certificate. He’s got lovely Irish but has no real feel or commitment to the language. He has said there are other ways in which the language can be encouraged but of course he has never specified what they are, or indeed taken any action.

A couple of months ago, the Dáil was meant to have its only all-Irish day to mark Seachtain na Gaeilge but the Government was unable to find an Irish speaker to do Leaders Questions.

To add insult to injury, Kenny has appointed to people to the Gaeltacht portfolio (McHugh and Heather Humphreys) who can’t speak Irish. A little bit like Thomas Mason, the Government advocates a policy of festina lente. Oh sorry, I forgot to give you the translation for that: it means let it wither on the vine.

For more of this article see this week’s Connacht Tribune

Connacht Tribune

Northern stand-off underlines President’s independent spirit

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Roman triumph...President Michael D Higgins meeting Pope Francis last week.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

There was a time when becoming President was like being sent to the Missions; one day you were here and then you were gone for seven years without a trace.

Patrick Hillary’s 14 years in the office between 1976 and 1990 produced only two particularly memorable events; a disputed phone call from Brian Lenihan asking him not to dissolve the Dáil, and a press conference to deny a rumoured affair of which nobody in the media had been remotely aware.

Otherwise, like many other Presidents, Hillary’s term was relatively anonymous, another prisoner of the very circumscribed Constitutional role of a non-executive president.

The President had few powers but the few powers were important: summoning and dissolving the Dáil, appointing the Taoiseach and members of the Government, as well as referring Bills to the Supreme Court to test their constitutionality.

It was the latter power that brought the presidency of Cearbhaill Ó Dálaigh to a dramatic end in 1976, when a Fine Gael minister Paddy Donnegan slighted him by describing him as a “thundering disgrace” after his decision to refer special powers legislation to the Court.

That all changed after 1990 with the election of Mary Robinson. She enlarged the role of the office as did her successor Mary McAleese. So has Michael D Higgins and while the office is in name ‘above politics’, he more than anybody else has stretched that concept.

Last week, I travelled to Rome to cover the President’s visit to the Italian capital, his first visit abroad since the Covid-19 Pandemic in March 2020.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

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Connacht Tribune

Parties no longer getting their own way at annual think-ins

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Brian Cowen, Mary Hannafin, and Bertie Ahern at the Fianna Fail think-in at Inchydoney back in 2004.

World of Politics with Harry McGee – harrymcgee@gmail.com

It’s Autumn and leaves are falling from the trees and blackberries are ripe and the party think-ins are in full flow. These away days for parties were originally to bring the parliamentary parties together after the summer break so they could regather their thoughts and come up with their strategies for the new Dáil session.

Then the bigger parties started getting guest speakers in, sometimes to give a contrary and unorthodox view on the economy or society.

It was at one such meeting in Inchydoney Hotel in Cork in 2004 when Fr Seán Healy of Social Justice Ireland addressed Fianna Fáil to explain to them that all the prosperity that had come into Ireland in recent years had led to widening inequalities.

It was out of that that the Inchydoney Strategy emerged, a reorientation by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern of his party’s prevailing ideology. The Fianna Fáil leader declared himself a socialist at the Cork resort and the party began to promote policies in Government that were less about economic expansion, more about the social dividend.

All of this happened during the course of the Celtic Tiger, when the economy was expanding at a ferocious rate, and already beginning to show signs of overheating. Ahern replaced Charlie McCreevy as Minister for Finance (he became EU Commissioner) with Brian Cowen. The Offaly TD was seen as less ‘PD’ than McCreevy. Indeed, he had famously said of the Progressive Democrats at an Ard Fheis: “When in doubt, leave them out.”

That strategy did reorient the economy but it was probably too late even then. The Celtic Tiger was at its height and Cowen pulled his punches when it came to taking the hard decisions between 2004 and 2008, with a series of milk-and-water budgets.

The Fianna Fáil manifesto for the 2007 general election was great for the party to get back into power but awful for the economy and society. The implications were not seen for two years, but when the symptoms of malaise appeared, of course, it was far too late to do anything about it.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

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Connacht Tribune

Coveney gets the mood of the room wrong on Zappone role

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Simon Coveney addresses the Dail Committee over the offer of a UN role to Katherine Zappone.

World of Politics with Harry McGee

When his time came to resign as Taoiseach a long time ago after a series of unedifying crises and scandals, then Fianna Fáil leader Albert Reynolds coined a memorable phrase: “It’s the little things that trip you up.”

An aide of another Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, once told me Kenny’s daily task was like being handed a skipping rope in the morning and told to skip all day. If he tripped up even once, it could have been the end for him.

I was reminded of all that while looking at Minister for Foreign Affairs, Simon Coveney, going through a difficult two hours (for the second time in a week) on Tuesday.

It was all to do with the appointment of his former government colleague, Katherine Zappone (who was an independent TD for Dublin South-West between 2016 and 2020), as a special envoy to the UN.

In the scheme of things, it was a relatively small matter. In the span of Coveney’s career – a quarter of a century as a TD, a decade as a senior minister – he has made, and been subject to, some major decisions.

Even last week, Taoiseach Micheál Martin (of Fianna Fáil, don’t forget) made a huge effort to downplay this. His argument? Zappone was offered what amounted to a part-time role. The row over the appointment was a classic political “bubble” stuff. The reaction was overblown and melodramatic. And so on and so forth, as the Taoiseach frequently says.

For more, read this week’s Connacht Tribune.

Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App

Download the Connacht Tribune Digital Edition App to access to Galway’s best-selling newspaper.

Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

Or purchase the Digital Edition for PC, Mac or Laptop from Pagesuite  HERE.

Get the Connacht Tribune Live app
The Connacht Tribune Live app is the home of everything that is happening in Galway City and county. It’s completely FREE and features all the latest news, sport and information on what’s on in your area. Click HERE to download it for iPhone and iPad from Apple’s App Store, or HERE to get the Android Version from Google Play.

 

Continue Reading

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