Irish Republican News · January 14, 2004
[Irish Republican News]

[Irish Republican News]
The status of Irish

The pomp and circumstance of the Irish Presidency of the European Union will be there for all to see in the next six months as politicians and venues are prepared to give Irish culture and tourism a shot in the arm. But it would be a pity if the commitment to Irish culture was seen to be only skin deep.

The Dublin government's irresolution in protecting Ireland's physical and cultural heritage is an issue which is often reflected upon in the columns of this newspaper. This is equally true, too often, of its attitude to our linguistic heritage. When the South joined the then EEC over 30 years ago, it was offered the chance to make Irish an official language. It chose not to and instead opted for the lesser status of a Treaty language. It was undoubtedly a blow to the language at the time, one which fuelled, and continues to fuel, the old cries of ``what use is Irish?'' amongst those who would have us believe falsely that this island is monolingual.

Dublin now has a chance to right that wrong and is being urged to do so by language groups and politicians across the political spectrum, including members of Fianna Fail. New member-states will insist on official status for their languages. Maltese, a national language spoken by a few hundred thousand, will find itself so honoured by its government and people.

Dublin has no plans to do anything similar for Irish. Given its parsimonious attitude in so many areas, one might at first suspect that the decision is based on finance. Yet the Irish taxpayer will contribute to a translation fund irrespective of whether Irish is an official language or not. In that case would it not be more sensible to create jobs for Irish-speaking graduates?

It is an odd country in which we live where the first official language has no standing in Europe. Odder too to realise that voters can elect a native Irish speaker from Connemara, Mr Sean O Neachtain, to be an MEP, but that Mr O Neachtain cannot use his native tongue - and one of Europe's oldest surviving vernaculars - to address the parliament in which he serves.

For centuries, the Irish language was part of the cultural fabric of the continent. It was the language of scholars, soldiers, refugees and politicians. In Ireland itself, it remains the language of Gaeltacht communities and urban families, of postman and professor.

Obtaining official status for Irish would send a positive message to all those who hold the language in trust - not only in Ireland but throughout the world. Such a celebration of Irish and of European culture would reweave the language into the continent's fabric once more.

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© 2004 Irish Republican News