Bill redefines Gaeltacht by language use

GAELTACHT areas will be identified in future by how much the Irish language is used instead of by geographical location, under a bill to be introduced by the Government.

Gaeltacht Affairs Minister Dinny McGinley said the Cabinet has also decided to keep Údarás na Gaeltachta operating, but with closer ministerial input into its functions and with changes to management structures.

The bill to be drafted by Mr McGinley’s officials in the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht will make provision for a new statutory definition of the Gaeltacht, based on the 20-year Strategy for the Irish Language published by the previous government last year. It suggested the legal definition be broadly based on linguistic criteria recommended in a 2007 study for the department, with some fundamental modifications.

Those criteria included stipulations that at least two-thirds of a district’s population be shown by census data to be daily speakers of Irish. The language should be predominant in a community’s social and institutional domains, schools should teach entirely through Irish and religious services, businesses, sports clubs and other local activities should be through Irish.

The planned Gaeltacht Bill will also provide for a process to prepare language plans at community level for each Gaeltacht area. New “network Gaeltacht” areas will be created, mostly in urban communities outside the Gaeltacht, where there is strong community and state support for Irish.

“My department, in conjunction with other state bodies, will work closely with Gaeltacht communities on the ground in order to assist them in developing and implementing language plans, which will incorporate all aspects of community life,” said Mr McGinley.

The implementation of the 20-year strategy will be the responsibility of the department, except for in Gaeltacht areas where Údarás na Gaeltachta will have that role. The strategy launched by former taoiseach Brian Cowen proposed the replacement of the Údarás with a new Irish Language and Gaeltacht Authority.

But following Cabinet consideration, Údarás na Gaeltachta is to remain in place and keep its enterprise functions, subject to legal powers allowing the minister direct it to focus its limited resources towards specific enterprise sectors. There will also be a requirement on the authority to co-operate with Enterprise Ireland and IDA Ireland, particularly in relation to significant projects in the Gaeltacht.

The Gaeltacht Bill will significantly reduce the Údarás board, which has 17 elected members and three ministerial appointees.

The requirement to hold elections to the board will be scrapped in the new law as the poll scheduled for October 12 would have cost an estimated €500,000.

“As a result of these Government decisions, I believe that the future of Údarás na Gaeltachta is secure, that Údarás na Gaeltachta will retain its statutory functions and that Údarás na Gaeltachta and other enterprise agencies will co-operate to ensure investment in the Gaeltacht,” Mr McGinley said.

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