Progress on the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language – Statements

9th June 2011

Thank you very much. I apologise. Three weeks ago I did not know I would be standing here and I have another pressing commitment. I trust the House will understand.

I welcome the strategy and its ambitions. I hope I can be one of its successes by building on the Irish I learned at school and, in a future debate, I may be able to contribute as Gaeilge. That is a challenge I have set myself. I very much welcome the information provided by the Minister of State. The Cabinet sub-committee is central to driving the implementation of the strategy and I am happy that it has been established and has met twice. I look forward to hearing more about that.

I also welcome the fact that the Minister for Education and Skills is a member of the sub-committee. The backdrop to the debate today is the many thousands of students sitting the junior certificate Irish examination, including my nephew. I hope all our students, including him, do well. However, I refer to the issue of how Irish is dealt with in the education system. I welcome the changes being made, but we need to do more to ensure Irish remains a living language not only in gaelscoileanna but throughout our education system with children being exposed to the language in preschool and through the media and so on.

I lived for three years in Brussels, which is a bilingual capital. It taught me that all advertisements have to be in two languages. My husband is Dutch but I did not know him at the time. I gained great exposure to Flemish during my time in Brussels because I had French and I was able to compare both languages. Subliminally, one’s vocabulary increases. There is something to be said for subliminal exposure aside from formal education. For example, in our system, Irish classes are held for set periods of 30 or 40 minutes. The language should seep through our education system in smaller, fun and creative ways so that Irish becomes a living language for children from an early stage. They should not be restricted to set periods where they have to learn, rehearse and recite. They should be encouraged to play games and engage in activities. A number of sporting organisations are doing this and that is welcome. There must be a greater focus on the aural aspect of the language and we need to be creative in how we do that.

The Minister of State announced that there will be a new statutory definition of linguistic borders based on studies. Will he elaborate on the criteria that will be used and on the studies? I tried to research them but I was unable to establish whether they had been published. Perhaps he can advise us on this. I welcome his planned approach to Gaeltacht networks where Irish is spoken so that an appropriate environment can be created and they can expand.

I very much look forward to future debates on the language in the House. I hope we will be able to support the Minister of State in the implementation of the strategy. It is rightly ambitious. This is a good time for us to have this discussion but we need to examine the strategy’s implementation and ensure the language gets to live.