Wednesday, 11 July 1934
Seanad Éireann Debate
Mr. Blythe: I objected to the Second Reading of this Bill a fortnight ago, because I wished to point out certain matters which are absent from the Bill and which I think ought to be in the Bill and which, I would like to suggest, ought to be incorporated in it before the Bill leaves the Oireachtas. Personally I have no objection whatever to the purpose of the Bill, which is to incorporate the inhabitants of the Town of Galway as a municipal corporation. In fact, I am all in favour of that, but at the same time I think there are things needed in the Bill and, if they are not inserted, I do not think the measure ought be allowed to pass.
In the Preamble it is set out that the Town of Galway is the chief town in Ireland where the national language has been preserved and is the town with which the welfare of the Gaeltacht in Connemara is most closely bound. I agree that is perfectly correct. As a matter of fact, from the point of view of the national effort to preserve and revive the Irish language, the Town of Galway occupies a most important position. It is quite close to an Irish-speaking area. For 50 miles west of the town Irish is the common language of all the people. It is the language you can hear the children on the roads speaking. It is in common use at the fireside, in the fields, and in the fishing boats. In  Galway itself at least 46 per cent. of the people are Irish speakers, according to the last census. It is the only considerable urban area in Ireland which could readily be made Irish speaking.
I think nearly everybody who has given any attention to the difficulty of preserving the language will agree that one of the great obstacles, one of the great handicaps so far as Irish is concerned, is that it is purely a rural language and in even the smallest towns and villages the tendency is to drop into English. Both the previous Government and the present Government have in various ways recognised the radical importance of the Town of Galway and have done much to promote the use of Irish, particularly in Galway Town. There is normally stationed in Galway an Irish-speaking battalion of the Army, nearly the whole of which consists of native speakers. The whole administration of the battalion is carried out in the Irish language. An Act has been passed by the Oireachtas prescribing that in the case of future appointments in Galway College the persons appointed must be competent to conduct their duties in Irish. Quite recently steps have been taken to have the work of the Gárda Síochána, in a new division which has been created, done through the Irish language.
It seems to me that the special position of the town ought not merely to be recognised in a clause in the Preamble, but that the people in the town, if they are to have the honour and privilege of being incorporated as a municipal corporation, ought to be in a position to do something to improve the status of the Irish language in municipal affairs. What I would like to suggest is that there should be a provision setting out that the minutes of the council or the corporation, and its committees, should be written and read in the Irish language. I think there should be a provision that the person elected to the office of Mayor should be an Irish speaker, so that if members of the council wish to conduct the proceedings, either at an earlier or a later period, in the Irish language, there will be no difficulties  in their way. I should like also that consideration would be given to the insertion of some provisions that would secure that after some reasonable period people should not be eligible for election to the corporation unless they know sufficient Irish to do their business on the corporation in Irish.
In a word, I think that Galway Town has been described as the capital of the Gaeltacht—at least, it is or can be made the capital of the Gaeltacht— and I think that there ought to be provisions in this Bill of incorporation suitably recognising that fact. I do not, and never would, suggest that these things should be pushed too far or too fast, because if one tries to go too fast, there is, in fact, less speed rather than more speed. Neither do I think that the new provisions should be too rigid, but I think that they should definitely lay down a principle that would make progress easy. I remember once saying in Galway that, if the people there would only recognise it, the Irish language was a gold mine for them. I do not mean by that that they could get limitless grants on the strength of the Irish language. What I meant was that if they took the right steps to make the city fully Irish speaking, as it should be made, then they would have, in the circumstances that would exist, people resorting there in large numbers. They would have, for instance, large numbers of students, who might otherwise be doing their courses elsewhere, coming for, say, a year to Galway College in order to get a grasp of the language which could only be got there. They might even have people coming to live there in order to get the advantages, and I think, that, generally, the city would gain enormously apart from the fact of the language being strengthened and many people convenienced.
I think that before a Bill of incorporation is passed the promoters ought to recognise not merely the privileges of this position, but they ought to recognise that there are responsibilities attached to it, and they ought to make some provisions to permit and secure  that, within a reasonable period, the language used for the transaction of the municipal affairs of Galway will be Irish. As a matter of fact, I believe that at the present time most of the business of the District Justice's Court in Galway town is conducted in Irish, and the police are instructed to give their evidence in Irish. There is also a Circuit Court Judge appointed there who is an Irish speaker. I think that the corporation should not be the only body to lag behind in this matter, and have no arrangements for the transaction of its business in Irish. I am simply putting this forward so that the promoters and others interested may take the necessary steps to have this included in the Bill. If there is nothing done I should be prepared to vote against the Bill at the last stage, but I do not intend to vote against it now.
Mr. Staines: I agree with most, if not all, of what Senator Blythe has said. There is no reason why the minutes of the proceedings of the corporation in the City of Galway should not be kept in Irish, or why we cannot find an Irish-speaking Mayor in it. Of course, this does not refer to the chairman or councillors at the moment, because there will have to be another election when this Bill is passed, but we are up against it just the same, and I agree with the point made that it is the centre of an Irish-speaking Gárda division—Connemara. We have been told that they will talk Irish amongst themselves and to the people, and that they will give their evidence in Irish in the courts. Suppose, however, a man is guilty of an offence and cannot speak Irish, how will they deal with that? I agree that we must encourage Irish as far as we possibly can, but suppose, as I say, a man is charged with an offence and that he does not understand Irish, how is he to be dealt with? We must put justice before the Irish language or any other language.
Mr. Staines: As well as that, we must remember what Galway City is. It is an ancient city. It is a foreign city if you like. It is a city which was built up on trade and commerce with Spain  and other countries. That tradition is there, and you cannot get rid of it. As a matter of fact, I know Galway well, and my experience of it is that you can speak any language you like, and I have heard most languages spoken in it except bad language.
Mr. Staines: We have to think of the staff of the urban council when this becomes a corporation. They will be taken over. We do not want to have men thrown out of their jobs. There are 39 members of the staff and 27 are Irish speakers. I do not suggest for a moment that Senator Blythe wants it, but we do not want the other 12 thrown out of their jobs. I do say, certainly, that they should learn Irish, and I am quite satisfied that for any new appointments the candidates should have a thorough knowledge of Irish. On the council itself, as it is at present constituted, there are 24 members, and only nine of them are Irish speakers. If there were a corporation election to-morrow I should be inclined to say that the same men will get elected to the corporation. Are we going to put anything in this Bill that will fire these men out of their positions as councillors or aldermen, or whatever it is they are going to be?
The City of Galway to-day is the same as it was for centuries. It is a cosmopolitan city. You have people there from all the counties in Ireland and from all the nations of the world practically. There is one thing that is a disgrace to this country, and that is the way we keep our cemeteries. There are two fine cemeteries there, both well kept. Who is responsible for it?—a German, and he is a member of the urban council, and he does not know Irish, as far as I know. I certainly would not like to see him out of his position if there is to be this new corporation. In any case, there is a subsequent motion referring this to a joint committee, and I think that Senator Blythe can get in anything he thinks necessary by that means. I would advise him, however, to be very careful not to overdo it. He can get in his amendments to say that the minutes should be  kept in Irish but, on the other hand, while they are kept in Irish, I think that with only nine Irish speakers out of 24 councillors you will have to circulate the minutes in English, as otherwise, they will not understand them unless they get interpreters. An amendment could be put in that the mayor must be an Irish speaker.
Mr. Counihan: Senator Staines said that he agreed with most of the suggestions put forward by Senator Blythe but I must say that I disagree with practically all the suggestions put forward by Senator Blythe. The Mayor must be an Irish speaker! By insisting on that we will possibly deprive the City of Galway of one of its best citizens having the honour of being Mayor. It may have the effect of depriving Galway of the services of the best mayor the city could have. Galway would be deprived of his services because he is not an Irish speaker. I do not know when Senator Blythe was putting forward that suggestion that he had in mind its possibilities.
Mr. Counihan: No; I am referring to future mayors. This is a Bill for all future time and it does not apply to the present only. Martin McDonogh knows Irish and the majority of the people of Galway know Irish. But in this Bill you should not insert a section that a man must be a speaker of Irish before he becomes Mayor of Galway. I do not believe the proposal is one with which the Seanad should agree.
Mr. Comyn: I must say that I disagree with the last words uttered by my friend. I did think that the Seanad were sensible people but I am afraid I am gradually changing my mind. I should like to say something about the City of Galway because in my boyhood  I saw it every morning across the bay. From my experience of the City of Galway I would say that there is not any person in Galway of sufficient age to be Lord Mayor or Mayor of the new City, who does not know Irish. They can all speak Irish when they like and if they like, that is, of course, some of the older people; the people in Galway of more than 30 years of age can very well describe themselves as Irish speakers. About 30 or 40 years ago Irish was the everyday language of that city.
I never met any person in Galway who did not understand a conversation in Irish. Therefore, I think it would be no hardship on the first members of this new corporation to be required to show that they are Irish speakers. Of course, there would be some difficulty in regard to the method of determining whether a person is an Irish speaker or not. For instance, perhaps a very distinguished citizen of Galway may be a candidate for the post of mayor of the city and I do not know whether he would consent to an examination as to his knowledge of the Gaelic tongue. I do not know how it is proposed to determine that question. But I should say there would be no difficulty whatever in finding a mayor for Galway who would be an Irish speaker and a corporation for Galway consisting solely of Irish speakers.
There is a question disturbing the mind of Senator Staines that some person who does not understand Irish may be accused of an offence in the District Court. Senator Staines is very much disturbed as to what may happen in that case. All that will happen is this, that some person will say to him “An dtuigeann tú Gaedhilge?” And he will reply “Ni thuigim.” And then an interpreter will be found who will interpret for him the evidence into English. These are little difficulties that will be easily dealt with. I am glad to find myself in the position of being in agreement, for once, with Senator Blythe. I think that that happy condition is not going to last very long. However, we might as well recognise it now. I thoroughly  agree with everything that Senator Blythe has said in reference to using this measure for the purpose of giving to the Irish language a status which will be of great use nationally and of great use to the City of Galway itself.
I fear the Galway people do not understand the importance to them of having their city regarded as the capital of the Gaeltacht. I have not been altogether in agreement with enthusiasts in relation to the Irish language. I have been in agreement as to the object they have in view. But I have not been always in agreement with the methods. I do think that one of the best methods of giving to the Irish language the status which it deserved and the impetus which it needs would be to secure that the capital of the Gaeltacht should be, in a real sense, a representative Irish city, an Irish-speaking city so far as the public business of the city is concerned. I agree that the mayor should be an Irish speaker, that the members of the new corporation should be Irish speakers and that the business of the corporation should be transacted in the Irish tongue. I agree with all these things.
I do regret that, notwithstanding the efforts that have been made to foster the Irish language, it is dying as the spoken tongue, not merely in the towns and in the villages but in the rural districts as well and even in the rural districts in the West of Ireland. I am sorry to say that it is inaccurate to describe it as the rural language. It is rapidly ceasing to be the spoken language of the people either in the country or in the towns and that is a great pity. If it ceases to be the spoken tongue there is no reason why it should not be known by scholars and why men of genius should not write in the Irish tongue. It is in that direction, I think, that the Irish tongue will be ultimately revived as the language of scholars and the language of writers. Galway, a University City, and the Capital of the Gaeltacht, should very well be made a centre for a real Gaelic revival.
Mr. Brown: I need scarcely say that I do not want to utter one word  against encouraging the use of the Irish language in Galway and in the Galway Corporation. But in view of what my friend Senator Comyn has said and also in view of some of the remarks made by Senator Blythe, I would just like to utter a note of warning. Under our Constitution Irish is the national language. English is also the official language. I very much doubt if the promoters of this Bill will not be entering into constitutional trouble if they make it an absolute condition as a qualification of the Mayor and Corporation of Galway that on election they must prove that they are Irish speakers. I think they ought to consider that very carefully before they insert a section like the one suggested in the Bill.
Colonel Moore: It has always struck me as a curious thing that all those people who hesitate and doubt about this matter of the language have all their sympathies with the people who are English-speakers and none at all with the Irish-speaking part of the population. They suggest to us what a great injustice would be done to the English-speaking people who did not know Irish but they never say a word about the injustice that is done to the Irish-speaking people who do not know English. It is rather curious that all the arguments I have heard for a number of years past are to the effect that a hardship would be done to English-speaking persons if Irish is made compulsory for these offices. The suggestion has never been made that there is any hardship inflicted on Irish-speaking persons in requiring them to know English. That shows the temperament and the outlook of those who use these arguments. However, that will wear away in time though it is hard now to understand it.
I have known the City of Galway since I was a child. In those days there were some great old houses still standing in the City. In the meantime, these have fallen down bit by bit. The citizens of Galway did a big trade in the old time with Spain. Trade and industry was flourishing  there. Galway was then said to be the second town in Ireland and for a while was, perhaps, in front of Dublin. Its commerce extended all over the world whilst Dublin's trade was only across Channel. Now, again, a great change is coming over Galway. In the old days when I knew Galway a new house was never being built there. The old houses were falling down and were not being replaced. Now, houses are being rebuilt everywhere in Galway and it is again a rising city. When the present building scheme is completed Galway will be a fine city. When I was in Galway there was a lady living there who was in possession of the old relics of the mayoralty, the mace and chain and such like decorations that one of her ancestors used to wear. I believe she is a descendant of the last of the mayors and that she kept these things. Since then, she has handed them back to the city for use when required. I do not think there is any necessity to make a long speech on this because it is practically certain that it will be accepted and there is, therefore, no good arguing about what is going to happen. Galway is going to be one of the great cities of Ireland, trading all over the world, as it did before, and, therefore, I support this Bill.
That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of both Houses be appointed to consider the Local Government (Galway) Bill, 1934, being a Bill entitled an Act to incorporate the inhabitants of the town of Galway as a Municipal Corporation under the name of “The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Galway,” and to provide for the administration of the affairs of the Corporation by a Borough Council in succession to the Urban District Council of Galway, and to effect the transfer to the Corporation of the property, rights, functions, duties and liabilities of the Urban District Council of Galway, and to improve the law of rating in the area within the jurisdiction of the Corporation, and for  other purposes connected with the foregoing matters.
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