EU respects Irish language more than our leaders do

Seán Ó Cuirreáin:Resigned because services not given in Irish.
Seán Ó Cuirreáin:Resigned because services not given in Irish.

Being able to speak your native tongue is a right, not a privilege, a rule the EU backs, says Laura Gaynor

In January, Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin announced his intention to step down following the failure by Government to implement legislation to improve services to the public through Irish.

His decision was met with uproar in the Irish-speaking community, not least because of the fear of no Irish representation in government, or the fear that he would not be replaced.

Degrading the status of Irish serves to erode long-standing traditions. I understand that Ireland has evolved into a much more diverse culture, but we need to respect indigenous languages. Speaking Irish is neither a political statement, highbrow or attention seeking — it’s a human right.

When Irish is supposedly the first language of Ireland, it seems bizarre that a business cannot contact our government in Irish. To them, it’s an indication of the hands off approach to its conservation.

Realistically, Irish speakers know it will always be a minority language. However, that is not to say it deserves any less respect.

The EU has shown great leadership in this regard. For example, you can contact an EU institution in Irish and expect to receive a response in that language. The EU could be forgiven for not having people who can speak Irish but they do. They decided in 2007 to treat the language with dignity and respect. Meanwhile in Ireland, we shouldn’t have to campaign for the most basic language rights, but we do.

Conradh na Gaeilge staged a protest in Dublin dubbed “walk for your rights” on Saturday. Like lot’s of Irish people, I’m not naturally inclined to protesting. I prefer to let off steam in an article or video. However, the problem is that most of the Irish media seldom give this issue the time of day. And while it primarily affects a small proportion of our society, it is a huge issue in their lives.

I was never particularly that good at Irish in school. Most of the Irish I’ve learned has been through doing media in Irish. By taking part in something ‘real’, you realise that Irish is a language and not something that was just invented to fill the hours of school.

Personally, I quite like being bilingual. Apart from being handy, I find that it makes you a better communicator. That, and it offers a lot of opportunities.

Irish has a largely silent presence in the country — on signs and in trains. But aside from that, we tend to use it for decoration rather than for its full potential.

Irish has existed since at least the 5th century AD. In that regard, it seems a major disservice to make a language redundant simply because it is inconvenient to civil servants. Regardless of our Government’s financial situation, being able to speak a language is a right — not a privilege.

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