Language barriers - Irish at the expense of education?

IT HAS been suggested that there are about 200 languages spoken in Ireland today.

Even if the figure were half that you would have to wonder if Irish remains in the, say, top three spoken languages in the country.

This despite generations of Irish people being force-fed the language at school and government programmes designed to rejuvenate the language. Most of these initiatives have failed as each passing census records that fewer and fewer people describe themselves as competent Irish speakers.

Though the number of people using the language has been in decline for centuries those who love it and make it a central part of their daily lives, those who use it to animate their culture, cherish it with deep loyalty and determination.

Nobody would wish to do anything other than encourage that love but the Ireland of 2007 cannot tolerate exclusion based on race, religion, nationality, gender or language, even if it is Irish.

For that reason the position adopted by Pobal Scoil Chorca Dhuibhne in Dingle, that it will not teach through any language other than Irish, is wrong.

School principal Pádraig Feirtéar says he is obliged by the Education Act to do everything possible to promote Irish. His position suggests that he imagines that fostering Irish is more important than educating all of the children in his community. This is unacceptable.

Is this language veto to apply to the children of the immigrants who now represent the backbone of our hotel and catering industry, the very sector so central to the economy of Kerry?

The Department of Education has written to the Kerry Education Service expressing “severe disappointment” about the absence of proposals from the board of management to deal with the issue. Maybe it should do more than write.

The reality is that in towns and villages, where there is not an alternative school, English must be the primary medium. By all means place special emphasis on Irish but suggesting that the only school in the locality teach only through Irish is just daft.

The successful integration of immigrants is one of the great challenges facing Europe and learning the working language of an individual’s adopted country is one of the vital milestones in that process. We have all heard of the third generation emigrant families content to remain isolated in their new homeland, speaking only the language of their ancestors. A recipe for disaster.

How can we insist that immigrants to Ireland learn English if we have schools where it is not the primary language and where there is no alternative?

The intransigence shown at Pobal Scoil Chorca Dhuibhne shows a meanness of spirit not usually associated with our education system or the people of that wonderful part of the world. The school has set itself up as a kind of Finsbury Park Mosque by the sea, where cultural intransigence and exclusion is advanced as a group claiming what it perceives to be their rights.

Ní féidir an dubh a chur ina gheal ach seal — you can only deny the truth for a while — and in this instance the truth is that a compromise must be found, one that will cherish Irish and educate all of the children in Dingle.


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