Thursday 2 July 2009

Journalism in Irish: Waste of Time

When I put the headline on this post, I thought, cheekily, that I could have gotten away with just saying Journalism in Ireland: Waste of Time. It would still be a launch pad for a viable post: over the last number of years, journalism in Ireland hasn't been a pretty place. The big broadsheets - have all had a major slimming down, with budgets cut and hundreds of journos turfed out. That was happening before the recession - it was part of the ongoing 'challenging' environment facing print media. But now with the recession it can only be accelerated. And of course it has spread to TV and Radio. Newstalk and Today FM have had layoffs and merged their news team (same owner, Denis O'Brien), and of course we all know that RTE is running a deficit of 68m and has begun a major belt tightening operation, so there aren't going to be major opportunities there for a while. Plenty of gloom there alright, but I wanted to talk about Irish language journalism.

I see that the major universities are still busy running Cúrsaí san Iriseoireacht (Irish language journalism). UCG has a couple of comms/iriseoireacht diplomas, UCD has one, DCU. There are probably more I don't know. Which makes me wonder where do all these aspiring iriseoirí think they are going to get a bit of work.

Almost all third level education is heavily funded by the tax payer, no doubt these cúrsaí are too, and perhaps they get and even higher percentage since they are ar son na cúise.

One stark figure should be enough for all those cúrsaí to simply close their doors - it is the number of full time Irish language journalists who make a living from the written word: one. Yip, just one. And that's the Irish language editor of none other than the English language paper, the Irish Times. His name is Pól Ó Muirí and he became the last surviving member of a species that is one heart beat from extinction - the full time Irish langauge journalist.

About six months ago the always-struggling daily , published in Belfast, shut down. And last weekend the Irish language weekly, Foinse, running since 1996 shut down. It's advertising revenue collapsed and the grant money from Foras na Gaeilge wasn't enough to keep it alive. So plimp, it's gone.

We know that in the present climate there is no way the substantially funded Irish language project, for want of a better term, is going to get more money. But the issue is, given the level of wasteful and frankly nonesensical spending on Irish elsewhere, why funds couldn't be found to keep the weekly paper going.

Apart from the courses I mention, money is still dished out to absolutely hideously bad private operators for unused online courses and the likes.

But this exposes the insanity of the way the Irish language strategy has been piloted. All sorts of grants were available for Gaeltacht schemes - even thought about 70% of the Gaeltacht is now a fiction - and money doled out on making Irish a working Eu language. Imagine - the intricies of Eu protocols being tranlsated into Irish by Irish-trained linguists in Brussels while the last remaining Irish language news publication is allowed to die. There is no more perfect symbol for the self-defeating, wrong-headed, vested-interest driven thing that is state policy on the so called preservation of the Irish language.

There is some dignity in a genuine failure, an honest best-effort which just cannot succeed. But there is nothing noble about the shambolic, incompetent, rivalrous, clique-infested, and costly failure that is our nation's effort to preserve its still-dying native tongue.


Mise said...

What I want to know is what the exact cost is per taxpayer, per year, of funding the Irish language. And what about the ingenuity and enthusiasm of the Irish language speaker? Should we have a revamped (and much more sophisticated) privately funded Foinse online with Google ads as revenue source? We could all click away for our Chanel watches and Louis Vuitton luggage; it's not as though the rural Gaeltacht community is short of cash in hand to pay for them.

Tomaltach said...

In truth I don't think anyone knows the total amount of money which the state spends annually on all initiatives related to preserving the Irish language. As well as direct costs - such as grants for Foise! - there are other indirect costs like the cost of teaching Irish in schools. A few years ago the Irish language commissioner estimate that teaching Irish at primary and secondary costs about 650 million a year. When you add in the cost of Irish language provision and testing in the public service - such as it is - and the direct costs of grants, and the cost of things like Udáras na Gaeltachta grants etc, I can see how a figure of around 1 billion a year is credible. But that's pure guess work.

I don't think the privately funded idea is mad, but I do think it would be unlikely to fly. There just wouldn't be the hits to make the ad revenue significant. Online ads pay very little revenue (only a fraction of an equivalent add in print).

I think I know where you are coming from with your Gaeltacht comment: with the grant culture and special industrial status there is an image of a very well off Gaeltacht community. It's not really true. Yes, there has been special state funding, but the western seaboard has historically been one of the poorest areas in the country. Farming there was never more than subsistence - and is simply unviable now. Fishing is all but bolloxed - apart from the two biggest centres (killybegs - not in the Gaeltacht and Ros a Mhíl - in the Gaeltacht). Despite state inventives and encouragements that amount of work available in the small industrial parks isn't great and is very volatile. You must remember that these are communities which have been very badly hit by generations of emigration.

Finally, and perhaps the most important thing, in relation to the notion that the Gaeltacht should say fund it's Irish language service from its own pocket. It's this: the number of people in the Gaeltacht for whom Irish is their main daily language is terribly small. Probably not much more than 20,000. That figure alone shows that the future of the language is more dependent now on those living outside the Gaeltacht who speak it or who are still interested in supporting it.

Colm said...

All which makes for depressing reading.