Monday 15 October 2007
The Death of the Irish Language II
The CSO have recently published the results of the Irish language portion of the 2006 census. The total number of people who claim they can speak Irish has increased a little though the figure has decreased as a percentage of the population. I want to comment however on the numbers relating to daily use of the language.
In particular I will dwell on the numbers who speak the language daily outside the education system. I think this is a valuable approach because those who use Irish inside the education system are doing it to earn either a living or a diploma which, in my opinion, is a vast misrepresentation of the state of the language. (In fact that's why the Census people decided to make that breakdown to begin with).
The figures show that some 53,471 people in this state speak Irish on a daily basis outside the education system. That's 0.4% of the population. If you can draw a positive picture from this figure, you must have followed a very different stats syllabus than I did. To me, this indicates that the language is hanging not by a thread, but a micro-fibre. It's beyond me how the Irish language body, the government, and enthusiasts of all sorts can pass over this figure without rushing to the belfry to sound the bell.
Looking at the figures for the Gaeltacht is scarcely a cause to raise our glasses either. In the Gaeltacht 17,687 people speak the Irish daily outside the education system. That's less than 20% of all Gaeltacht residents. Surely it's time to question the entire Gaeltacht policy if more than 80% of residents don't really speak the language daily in any meaningful way. The tax payer funds Gaeltacht programs to the tune of hundreds of millions per annum yet no linguistic cost benefit analsysis is ever attempted. Even if we agree that the government should fund the language at all, surely the money could be better spent elsehwere. At the very least the whole Gaeltacht project needs to be reassessed or reformed.
Looked at another way, a full two out of every three people who speak the language daily outside the education system now reside outside the Gaelteacht. Why then does the Gaeltacht deserve special status? A status which has singularly failed to stop the decline of the langauge on the western seaboard.
These figures, however shocking, will draw no debate. One reason is that the government doesn't want to be seen to offend a reasonably powerful Irish langauge lobby. And second, perhaps more important is that the said lobby willfully ignores the parlous state of the language. It is as if the movement is afraid to take that first critical step towards introspection, afraid to peer into its own soul, afraid perhaps to take a look at all, terrified that when it does there will be no soul to inspect.