Wednesday, 3 November 2010
Dáil Éireann Debate
45. Deputy Brian O’Shea asked the Minister for Community; Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs when he will publish the final draft of the Twenty Year Strategy on the Irish Language to allow a full debate in the Oireachtas and among the public prior to a final decision by the Government on the draft; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [40624/10]
Deputy Pat Carey: As the Deputy will be aware, the draft 20 year strategy for Irish was published by the Government at the end of 2009 and was referred to the Joint Committee for Arts, Sports, Tourism, Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs for consideration.
The joint committee undertook a process of consultations with various stakeholders during the year. It invited groups and individuals from the various Gaeltacht areas and throughout Ireland to engage with them in putting forward recommendations for the preservation and development of the Irish language. At one meeting, held in the Galway Gaeltacht, people had an opportunity to address members of the joint committee. The committee subsequently agreed on a report with 39 recommendations, which I received on 28 July 2010. The recommendations covered various topics such as education, Údarás na Gaeltachta, voluntary organisations, summer colleges and the Gaeltacht and are currently being considered by my Department in co-operation with other relevant Departments.
It is expected that this process will be concluded shortly and that the final draft can be brought before the Cabinet committee on Irish and the Gaeltacht and, subsequently, to Government. It is hoped that the next meeting of the Cabinet committee will take place on 17 November 2010, when the final draft will be discussed with a view to submitting it formally to Government. Subject to Government approval, I anticipate that the draft strategy will be published shortly thereafter.
With regard to having a debate on the draft strategy, there was a full debate of the report of the joint committee in the Seanad yesterday, in which I participated. As the Deputy will understand, the matter of having any additional debates is a matter for the Whips.
Deputy Brian O’Shea: I take the point that the Minister is not responsible for debates in this House but he has indicated that he is not adverse to a debate. Will he not agree that the public at large have not been involved at all in this process of developing the 20 year strategy and that a large majority of people have no idea that this strategy is being developed? If such a debate takes place it would be important that not only the Minister’s good self, representing the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs, would take part but also the Minister for Education and Skills who has responsibility for the largest spend on the Irish language. None of them know exactly how much is being spent on the Irish language in the education system——
Deputy Brian O’Shea: The Coimisinéir Teanga roughly estimates it at €0.5 billion. The former president of the University of Limerick, Dr. Ed Walsh, says it is €1.2 billion. A considerable amount of taxpayers’ money is being spent on the Irish language. I believe we need to consult with the taxpayers in terms of where we go from here and involve them in the debate on the strategy to ensure we help develop a sense of ownership of the language among the public at large. Otherwise, we will go nowhere. Can I take it the Minister would give his full support to such a debate in the Dáil?
Deputy Pat Carey: To answer the last question first, I understand the Whips were discussing the timetable for that. I presume it is up to them and the House to decide when that debate will take place. I am more than happy to support that. We had an extremely good debate in the Seanad yesterday. I was listening to Raidió na Gaeltachta on the way back from Armagh today and it seemed to have kept that radio programme going for most of the morning.
I do not go along with Deputy O’Shea in regard to engagement with the public. I was not involved in the early stages of consultation on this strategy but I am aware from reading the newspapers that there was a huge amount of engagement with the community at large. There were approximately 16 public consultation events. There was widespread on-line engagement and both the acadamh na hollscoile in Galway and Fiontar in DCU were involved on a consultative basis examining how a strategy could be developed.
On the other question the Deputy addressed about the future of the strategy and the public ownership of it, there is a fairly significant degree of public ownership. One swallow does not make a summer, or even two——
Deputy Pat Carey: I will make three of it so. I was in Carlow some weeks ago where a mini oireachtas was going on for the best part of a fortnight. They have a network of naonraí gaelscoil gaelcholáistí, and the institute is located there. The public is also engaged also and it is working towards what has been set out. The local authority is heavily engaged working towards bilingual status for Carlow town, as an example. I happened to be in Gibbstown, in County Meath, which is a Gaeltacht, but the level of engagement there between the local GAA club, Comhaltas CeoltóiríÉireann and the local school would indicate there is significant engagement overall.
There is a significant number of networks of community groups, whether it is Gaeilge ag Labhairt, Corcaigh ag Labhairt or any of those that are ready to adopt the strategy. It must be remembered that it is a 20 year strategy. There are three phases to it over a 20 year period. Flexibility and an openness to adapt and achieve the objectives set down in the plan is probably its strength.
Deputy Brian O’Shea: I guarantee the Minister that if he went out in the street and asked the first 20 people he met what they know about the 20 year draft strategy very few of them would know about it and fewer again would know anything contained in it. I accept that the Gaeltacht people were consulted, and rightly so, as well as the Irish language organisations but there is a broader public that we are not reaching, and that is my major concern. There is a great deal of soft support for the Irish language. It is about converting that into real support and people doing something. That is where I see the major flaw. The leadership must come from this House and we should engage in an exercise where we would have a full debate, with full ministerial participation of Departments that are providing services for the Irish language. It is vitally important also to get people to engage with the language and use whatever Irish they have in a bilingual sense and so on. We are not reaching the people, and the situation is getting worse.
Deputy Pat Carey: The situation is getting worse. This House has led the debate. It was the Government and this House that developed a strategy. It was debated for seven months by the joint committee. There is soft support, and the purpose of the strategy is to convert that soft support into real support. The objective is to increase the number of Irish speakers over the 20 year period from €83,000 currently to €0.25 million by 2030. Is that an achievable objective? I take on board what Deputy O’Shea is saying but sooner or later the talking must stop and the implementation has to begin. In view of the urgency I would like the implementation to start quickly.
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