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Irish language policy is deluded

With all due respect to Julian de Spáinn of Conradh na Gaeilge, his recent letter (Dec 6) is a good illustration of the scale of the delusion that exists in the Irish language lobby about how best to preserve the national language.

Mr de Spáinn says that the status of Irish as an official EU language makes Irish “our bridge to Europe”. In reality, however, the only concrete effect of this status is that reams of obscure official documents are required to be translated into Irish costing European taxpayers a staggering €800m annually. Given that, according to the most recent census, just 1.8% of the population use Irish as part of their daily lives, it is clear that only a tiny number of people in Ireland (let alone in Europe) benefit from this enormous expenditure.

So what exactly does this “official status” achieve in terms of preserving the language, when the only people who derive any benefit from it are the tiny number of people who already speak Irish?

So here’s a radical idea. How about we seek to revoke the status of Irish as an official language, and request that this €800m be redirected from translating endless documents and reports, to the direct teaching of Irish to schoolchildren. This would effectively double the amount being spent on the teaching of Irish, and could literally bring about a revolution in how we teach the language. For example, with such vast money at our disposal we could send every child in the country with an interest in the language to the Gaeltacht for a couple of weeks a year. Surely that would do more for the language than the translation of dust-gathering EU reports?

Mr de Spáinn goes on to mention the 180 jobs as translators and says, quite outrageously, that “there is no other way to dramatically increase the number or Irish people working with the EU”. This is an extraordinarily blinkered point of view. In Germany alone, there is a massive shortage of skilled engineers, with an estimated 70,000 vacancies in this sector which cannot be filled.

So how about instead of spending €800m to create 180 jobs translating documents into Irish, we spend this money on teaching some of the thousands of skilled construction workers who lost their jobs in the crash to speak German, and take up these well-paid jobs just a two-hour flight away? Irish language groups tend to froth at the mouth at the thought of continental languages being taught to Irish people, but this is hardly surprising given that they seem not to want any Irish people to learn Irish either.

The status of Irish as an official EU language does nothing to preserve the language. All it does is effectively put Irish on a pedestal in a museum, like some kind of stuffed dodo, to be admired by a tiny number of people at a cost of €800m per annum. Only a truly radical shift in our attitudes will prevent our language from going the way of the dodo.

Barry Walsh
Dublin 3


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