Ireland's Public Broadcaster Makes Major Move to Bolster the Gaelic Language

RTÉ (Raidió Teilifís Éireann), Ireland’s national public service broadcaster has announced it will make major programming changes to boost the profile of the Irish Language. RTÉ formally launched “Meáin Ghaeilge RTÉ, Action Plan 2015-2019”, the broadcaster’s new strategic action plan for the Irish language.  Rónán Mac Con Iomaire, Group Head Irish Language at RTÉ is quoted on the broadcaster’s web site: This plan seeks to integrate the Irish language into everything we do in RTÉ. In the coming years we will explore the creation of a new youth-orientated Irish-language radio service, and this coming September will see the piloting of an option to choose Irish or English language television commentary on the All-Ireland final matches. We’re looking to increase the amount of Irish on RTÉ’s television and radio services and, through partnerships, provide more educational output, as well as building Irish-language capacity across RTÉ.

The network, which as Ireland’s public service broadcaster is financed by the television licence fee scheme and advertising income, cited the “20-Year Strategy for The Irish language 2010-2030” as an element in its decision.  The “20-Year Strategy  sets a goal to increase the number of speakers who use Irish in daily life from a 2006 base line of 83,000 to a target of 250,000 in 2030.  

This is welcome news for the Irish language.  However the announcement is not without irony.  Present when the programming changes were unveiled was Ireland’s Prime Minister, Taoiseach Enda Kenny, whose government has been savaging the Irish language with budget cuts, policy reversals and malign neglect since taking power in 2011. Appearing to be deliberately undermining the goals of the 20-Year Strategy, the current government has been roundly condemned for inflicting serious damage to the future of the Irish language.  The hostility of Dublin to the Irish Language prompted the resignation of Irelands’ first Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin.  Mr Ó Cuirreáin announced his resignation in December 2013 in dramatic testimony before the Irish Parliament's Joint Committee on Public Oversight and Petitions. During his final appearance before Parliament the outgoing Language Commissioner stated that his decision to resign was in protest over the failure of Enda Kenny’s government to support the Irish tongue.

Kenney who was present at the announcement made the following statements referring the new RTÉ strategic action plan for the Irish language : “These developments are an integral part of the implementation of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 which is the cornerstone of Government policy in this area." Some might observe these to be hollow words from the leader of a government that has not been kind to the Irish language.

The Irish Governments’ policies have been widely condemned by supporters of the tongue. Typical of the criticism levelled against the Irish Government’s failure to support Gaelic is the following comment from Transceltic’s Eibhlin O’neill: “The problem is that the present Irish government has the ability to seriously damage the Irish language before they are consigned to history.  According to the Official Languages Act of 2003 the rights of Irish speaking citizens are guaranteed when dealing with the government of Ireland. Despite this we have seen a dreadful disregard of current legislation. To such an extent that it resulted in the resignation of Ireland’s first Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin in disgust.  It has brought thousands out in protest onto the streets on Ireland.”

 In July of this year Transceltic reported that Dr Conchúr Ó Giollagáin, author of a recent study on the impact of the Irish Governments indifference to the survival of the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking areas), had condemned the government’s policies toward the Irish Language.  In an article in the Irish Times, Ó Giollagáin is quoted as follows: “…the State is perceived (by Irish Speakers) as obstructing the strategic deployment of the mechanisms of State against the clearly documented crisis in Irish-speaking networks…. (the government’s) strategy is devoid of analytical foundation, diagnostic rigour or strategic relevance… evasiveness (on the part of the Irish Government) has engendered a form of passive aggression in official circles towards the crisis in the Gaeltacht, which is taking on the hallmarks of a conspiracy…. Those working for the language agencies (within the Irish Government) operate as an intermediary class between the State’s largely mono-lingual English-speaking power elite and the bilingualised Gaeltacht, rather than as dynamic leaders of a distressed community.”

The programming changes announced by RTÉ are welcome and we can only hope that this marks a shift in Dublin’s attitude toward the preservation, protection and promotion of the Celtic tongue of Ireland.

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