Thursday, 5 February 2009

Eamon O'Cuiv and prudent use of public money

It is a great honour for an Irish public figure to make the digital pages of Gombeen Nation more than once – due to intense competition. Bono has managed it. Roy Keane is just one off a hat-trick. Charlie McCreevy has also featured twice. Soooo….. please step forward (again) Eamon O’Cuiv, Minister for the Gaeltacht.

In last week’s Independent, an article quoted O’Cuiv calling for the Government to stop wasting taxpayers’ money on private consultants. It seems that State departments and public bodies were, according to Indo figures, “on target to spend €158.5m on private consultants in 2007 and 2008”, with some consultants being paid up to “€2,000 per day”. That's a lot of money on consultation, right?

But... Is this the same Eamonn O’Cuiv who purged the word “Dingle” from the map, despite local opposition? Is it the same man who banned “Stop” signs in the Gaeltacht – despite “Stop” signs being international – because English has no (official) place in that State-funded region? Is it the same fellow who supported Gaeilge being made an official language of the EU - after 34 years of us managing quite well without it? And just so those who desire to do so, can read about tenders for road works and pipe-laying contracts (in Chipping Norton and elsewhere) in the European Journal, through Irish?

Then there is his 2003 Official Languages Act, requiring public services and publications be provided in Gaeilge. Prior to its introduction, O’Cuiv is on record as saying "the English speakers of the country do not know about the Bill and if they did there is a good chance that we would not succeed in putting it through". Quite.

Interestingly, despite the enormous expense and effort of translation and publishing documents “as Gaeilge” (in print and online), the Irish Times reported this week that less than 0.5 per cent of Government websites were accessed by the public through their Irish Language versions.

0.5 per cent! You might not think that, when you look at some of the comments on Gombeen Nation whenever the Irish Language Industry is mentioned. Indeed, sometimes you’d think English speakers were in the minority. Nor would you think it from a brief cruise through cyberspace, where the TG4 Generation is most active, infused with their new Gaelscoil nationalism. (And apologies to Aonghus, I know I generalise).

All this came to mind as I wandered around town today, and noticed a poster in a public building, informing people of their unemployment benefit rights in Gaeilge. Given the size of the Irish Language Industry - with its compulsory Irish, attendant extra Leaving Cert points for doing subjects through Irish, smaller gaelscoil class sizes, and positive discrimination for Irish speakers in public jobs - it’s quite likely that 0.5% would be an optimistically large audience in this particular instance.

O'Cuiv's charter for legal obfuscation

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Anonymous said...

"Is it the same man who banned “Stop” signs in the Gaeltacht – despite “Stop” signs being international"

Given my ropey knowledge of Gaelic I could be completly wrong on this but Im pretty sure "Stop" is a word (albeit with one of those accented characters) in Gaelic as well ?

The Gombeen Man said...

It's "Stad", Anon. You see, 13 years of compulsory Irish weren't entirely wasted on me!

Have a look at this link:

aonghus said...

Blaming the Stad/Stop controversy on Eamonn Ó Cuiv is a bit rich. Some holiday home owner with time on his hands complained, and initially was getting to have the signs taken down - which would have been a waste of money. I fail to see the problem if the sign is a red octagon - who cares if it reads stop or stad?

And that article in the times was (at least) misinformed

I wrote to the editor, but she had better things to deal with:
The easiest way to deal with it here is to write what I wrote to her:
Monday's article about Irish speakers only representing 0.5 % of the traffic to State Websites appears to be founded on a number of

Firstly, there is no obligation on State Bodies to have a website, or part of a website, in Irish.

Secondly, where some content is available in Irish, it is seldom as comprehensive, accurate or up to date as the English content.
Curiously, those state bodies whose primary content is created in Irish do not seem to have this problem providing the equivalent
information in English.

Thirdly "page impressions" is not a good measure of site usage for a number of reasons. Among others, it includes accesses by automatic web crawlers used by search engines. And it gives no indication as to whether the information on the page has been read or profited from.

Where quality content is provided in Irish, I will use it and profit from it. Token "content" - such as the one page the Dept of Enterprise has - is of no use to me, or any other Irish speaker.

This perennial selective discussion about services in Irish crops up again and again. Like the time when they were complaining that nobody forked out €50 for the Irish copy of the Cork Development Plan (there is a Gaelatcht in Cork by the way).

Of course nobody did - but 2500 people downloaded it for free.

In fairness to Eamon Ó Cuív he has been banging on for several months now about there being too many Irish Language organisations - both state and voluntary, and seems to be taking steps to cut back on duplication in the ones he controls. But he is hamstrung by Foras na Gaeilge being a North South Body.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Stop (pronounced "stup") being a word as well ?

But Im hardly in a position to argue the point.

aonghus said...

Stop and Stad are both equally valid. But Stad would be more common in Donegal. Which is presumably why Donegal Co Co chose to use it.

Anonymous said...

Gombeen Man has never said a single positive thing about the Irish language as far as I'm aware.

Thus his opinion is biased in the extreme and not worthy of consideration.

A classic example of the hostile anti-Irish language fringe. All bark. No bite.

The Gombeen Man said...

"Gombeen Man has never said a single positive thing about the Irish language as far as I'm aware."

No flies on you, eh?

aonghus said...

Perhaps he never had anything positive to say?

Ella said...

Agreed, perhaps he never had anything positive to say. I was one of the unusual people at school who actually wanted to learn Irish, sadly so did about 3 others, and the other 26 had no interest, so those of whose were interested did not get the teaching we deserved. Irish should not be compulsory and forced down people's throats. I can see where GM is coming from, if someone had made me study physics, well...

aonghus said...

I don't quite agree on the "compulsory Irish". I don't think the policy as a policy is incorrect. I do agree that the lack of inspiring teachers and the shoddy curriculum is a problem. A problem partly addressed by Gaelscoileanna.

What my comment was meant to convey is that GM (ironic that his handle depends on an Irish word, isn't it) has every right to argue against both the government policy and its implementation.

But Ad Hominem attacks - his on Éamon Ó Cuiv, anonymous' on him - are neither terribly convincing nor useful.

Anonymous said...

But I don't think this is about compulsory status alone.

The very existence of Irish and the continued existence of Irish speaking communities seems to rub you the wrong way. You seem to want to disassociate Irish from any and all concepts of Irishness.

Do you think Irish should be an official language of the State?

aonghus said...

It's his blog. If he can make a case for the euthanasia of Irish, that's his priviledge. I'll argue against that, on the basis of facts.

But saying "you have no right to that opinion" is not an argument.

As I understand it, GM dislikes the concept of nationalism per se. He also seems to have some spite feamainne based on personal experience against Irish. I think he is wrong - but it is true that Irish has been wielded in the past to stop people doing things.

Most of that is ancient history, and in some cases the baby was thrown out with the bathwater - such as when the requirement for Irish in the civil service was dropped in the 1970's and replaced by a points scheme which was never applied. (See last years report from the Language Commissioner).

Trying to shout down people who have an issue with Irish and government support for it will not get us anywhere.

The Gombeen Man said...

Aonghus, I'm surprised at your stance on compulsory Irish. This policy has existed since the foundation of this rotten State, and has been a failure.

Indeed, compulsory status at educational level could be cited as one of the reasons attitudes towards the subject are so polarised - such as yours and mine. I can certainly say it shaped much of my view.

That, along with its continuing requirement for entry into most third level institutions; extra points for doing subjects through gaeilge in the Leaving; advantage for promotion and recruitment in the civil service (even though the scandalous outright ban on non-Irish speakers has been quietly dropped); an Irish speaking requirement for teaching (primary), which all constitute a strategy of using advantage in education, employment and opportunity as a means of its promotion. Also, an Irish language requirement was only recently dropped for entry to the bar, and the coppers too (recruits still have to learn it in case someone - who speaks the vernacular perfectly well - tries to get off a speeding ticket with a discourse in Gaelic).

If fans of the language are wondering where the resentment comes from they need look no further than all this, Aenghus. For that reason, I have always viewed it more as an industry here, than anything else.

I don't think any of this does it - or genuine people like you who value it - any favours. I'm aware, BTW, of the origins my moniker, but I wouldn't read too much into that...!!!

Anonymous, I assume your query is directed at me? No, I do not think it should be the first official language of the State. But I think I make that clear enough elsewhere on my blog, which does not have to comform to your opinion or anyone else's. Also, while you may see it as a central element of "Irishness", I do not (again, for reasons expounded elsewhere on the blog).

In a nutshell, I see it as part of a selective interpretation of Irishness, based more on the interpretation of 19th Century revivalists such as Pearse and his ilk. But what irks me most, are the policies around its promotion.

aonghus said...

I haven't really got time to go into minor details on all this. Suffice it to say that I do not share your analysis.

Anonymous said...

Any thoughts, GM, on compulsory English, Maths, and, in my school, French? Or is it only compulsory Irish that annoys you?

And what’s this about needing Irish to get into College? I’ve just checked a few sites and they all seem to say they require a language ‘other than English’. Where’s your compulsory Irish?

And as long as Irish is _an_ official (first or otherwise) language of the state, why shouldn’t civil servants and primary teachers, as employees of the state, know some? I‘m sure you expect primary teachers to be able to teach religion, maths, etc, so why not some Irish, no matter how little (or how badly)? There are also minimum requirements in English and Maths, BTW, to get into the teacher training colleges. Is this also unfair?

The Gombeen Man said...

All the NUI colleges require Gaelic, unless the student has an exemption.

Your contention that French is compulsory in your school is a fascinating one, so I assume you are not studying (or teaching) in this country. Maybe that's the way it is where you are based, but then again this issue is more than just an academic one for the rest of us.

Even Enda Kenny does not hold with the absolutist "as long is Irish is an official language everyone should be forced to do it" line, as even he is on record as saying the compulsory policy does more harm to the language than good (and he's a fluent speaker).

It should not be necessary for all civil servants to "know some", as not all public dealings with the State are through Gaelic - only a small percentage. With a little imagination it should be possible to create a facility for English speakers who wish to communicate "as Gaeilge" with Public Service departments, without compelling everyone to "know some".

This also means that the Civil Service can reflect the tax-paying public, the vast majority of whom are not Gaelic speakers and, indeed, many of whom are not even Irish.

Is this really such a problem for you?

Anonymous said...

I'm Irish, and and very tired of language activists groups confusing Irish identity with an identity based upon Gaelic sub-culture and language.

Despite almost a century of efforts to force a Gaelic subculture and language upon the population through the education system (in particular) and state employment policies, these efforts have thankfully largely failed.

Let us be culturally mature enough to recognise our culture for what it really is, and not seek solace in 19th century cultural nationalism.

It is quite simply wrong to force culture down peoples throats through schooling. It's using our school for a crude political indoctrination and cultural bullying, not for high-minded education.

And the practice is downright disrespectful of all of those who reject or resent the imposition of Gaelic - who are all every bit as equal, as Irish and as worthy as any other.

aonghus said...

"who are all every bit as equal, as Irish and as worthy as any other."

I challenge you to come up with a statement from an Irish language organisation now which says any different.

I have only ever heard this opinion imputed to Irish speakers. I have never met any fluent Irish speaker who holds it.

But by calling my culture a "sub culture", you appear to be trying to denigrate my identity.

So I'll pit GM's alleged Pearse nationalism against your post colonial self loathing!

Anonymous said...

Regarding Irish at 3rd level, TCD and DCU don't demand it, though NUI does. However, UCC and Maynooth (for example) also demand a third language as a general entry requirement (not just for arts, but also for e.g. sports studies, psychology, music). As I said, I'd like to know what you think about those 'other' compulsory requirements for getting into university courses? And if it's unfair to have Irish rammed down your throat in secondary school, what about compulsory Shakespeare and Calculus (and French..?)... Or why is it only offensive if it's Irish?

And as for the civil servants, you're perfectly able to become one without “knowing some” (or, indeed, any) Irish, as compulsory Irish was done away with thirty yrs ago (see Aonghus's comment above). No-one's stopping you. I just don't see the problem in civil servants being able to speak some Irish too. God knows, if they're capable of (mis)managing the state, it can't be too difficult to retain a 'cupla focal'. Unless knowing even a 'cupla focal' is really such a problem for you?

And why would I care about what Enda Kenny says? I don't give a damn what any Irish politician says about anything. They're all a shower of ********

The Gombeen Man said...

My point stands on third level. With regard to civil service jobs you'd better inform the Shinners.


though you'll have to cut and paste as links don't seem to be showing up in Comments for some reason.

I don't have any strong feelings, either way, on other subjects. I'm open.

I've no problem with you, or anyone else, learning a "cupla focal". I do, however, feel there are enough barriers to third level education in Ireland as it is, as it is still a middle-class preserve despite the abolition of fees.

In a more general vein, I'm always amazed at the eagerness of some Irish people to force their viewpoint on others.

This was also manifest in the kind of compulsory morality which didn't allow people access to condoms, which didn't allow people access to divorce and which still does not allow people abortion rights to this day.

It's interesting.

aonghus said...

It's called democracy, GM.

As I said, you are free to campaign to abolish "Compulsory Irish". (Enda did, but I'd say it lost him more votes than he gained). I'm free to campaign against you.

Similarly on the other "rights" you mention - all of which have an effect on society, and therefore all of which are legitimate subjects of debate.

No man is an island...

Frankly, if somebody cannot manage a pass in Irish, knowing they require it to get into the university of their choice, I'd have questions about their cognitive ability. Those who genuinely have a difficulty with language learning can get an exemption.

Do you have any hard, non anecdotal, evidence that otherwise qualified people are failing to get a third level place due to the Irish requirement?

The Gombeen Man said...

"Frankly, if somebody cannot manage a pass in Irish, knowing they require it to get into the university of their choice, I'd have questions about their cognitive ability."

I find that comment incredibly arrogant. Can I ask you are you a student there in Lublin? If so, maybe you need to come down from your middle-class ivory tower once in a while.

I've no "hard evidence", but I'm sure you've none to the contrary either. I know many people who were good at other subjects and were barred form Third Level because they didn't have Gaelic. Maybe you'd like to accuse them on lacking "cognitive ability?".

aonghus said...

The failure rate in pass maths is twice that of pass Irish.

The rates of higher level grades in Irish are higher than in other subjects.

I'm aware the comment sounds arrogant - it was intended to be a bit inflammatory - some of the anti Irish comments here are too.

But frankly I find it hard to believe that people who were good at other subjects, and didn't have a specific problem with language learning (which would entitle them to an exemption) couldn't manage a pass in Irish.

I'd argue that they didn't want to.

For the record, it's been nearly twenty years since I was a student, and I've never been to Lublin.

The Gombeen Man said...

Apologies, your post came up as "Anonymous" at first - I confused it with another poster.

Well, Aonghus, you might be interested to know that in 2005 48,705 took honours Irish (compulsory subject) - with 33.8% succeeding.

In the same year, 31,509 students took French (non-compulsory) with 57% of them getting an honours grade.

What does that say about the compulsory argument?

This is what I can never understand about so many Gaelic speakers, it is nearly like a form of evangelism, which does their cause no good whatsoever.

aonghus said...

That that was an outlier year, and that steps were taken to mend the curriculum.

Of course people who love something - any something - or have strong opinions on it - are a bit evangelical about it.

Isn't that why you have a blog?

By the way, Gaelic is the language spoken in the Highlands of Scotland. I speak Irish. But of course you know that - you're using "gaelic" to inflame what you assume is my identification of the language with irish identity.

This has been fun, but since you still haven't addressed my substantial comments on your original post, and since we are in danger of going round in circles again, I think we'd best agree to differ.

The Gombeen Man said...

I generally use the terms "Gaelic" or "Gaeilge". Also, I address as many points as I can on the blog and have given my view on most of the points you, and others, have raised.

I don't address every point made in every comment, as I just don't have the time. Also, in the original blog, I referred to an Irish Times report on the issue of Government website "as Gaeilge". If there is an issue with the methodology of the report it's not really down to me.

I am sure there are some things we can agree on, but somehow I doubt that this issue will ever be one of them. But there you go.

Anonymous said...

You say "while you may see it as a central element of "Irishness", I do not". Surely, there is a fundamental problem here with regard to "Irishness" which is at the root of the whole issue. We cannot both be "Irish" if we differ on such a fundmental issue such as this. How do you propose to address this problem.

I would suggest that if Irish people were asked about this a majority would confuse "Irish identity with an identity based upon Gaelic sub-culture and language". I for one have no problem with abandoning an "Irish" identity in favour of a Gaelic one if it turns out that Irish identity is not "based upon Gaelic sub-culture and language". In fact like yourself GM I am often uncomfortable with many things that are associated with being Irish, e.g the O'Bama thing featured here which is classic non-Gaelic Irish culture.

aonghus said...

There are two types of Irishness - 1) citizenship, which is binary - you either are, or are not. It is granted or denied by law. It is objective.

2) Self identification, which is subjective. I find the whole idea of degrees of Irishness risible.

Certainly speaking Irish is central to my personal sense of self. But I do not define Irishness based on that, or any other aspect of what makes my sense of self.

I belive the Irish state, as a collective, has a duty to the Irish language as something which is unique to Ireland, but a contribution to overall human culture.

I do not think individuals have a duty to the Irish language - but that it is open to them. I regard the teaching of Irish in schools as part of offering that option to them. The fact that the execution of that duty of the State is appalling carried out needs to be fixed, but the priniciple is correct, in my never humble opinion.

However, if someone freely chooses to turn their back on some aspect of Irishness, that does not cut them off.

Anonymous said...

having never learned much irish ialso never found much need for it like millions of my fellow coutry men, as the future for the young of ireland appears to be like its past emigration on a large scale is likely, learning irish seems a waist of time and resources,except for those in the gaelic industry , its not widely spoken here in beverly hills

The Gombeen Man said...

Greetings from grotty Ireland. Well, mate, at least we can be sure one industry will always continue to thrive as the economy tumbles down around our ears!

aonghus said...

Actually, I think that might be true in a sense that you don't mean GM.

Oideas Gael and others have been quite successful in attracting "cultural tourists" to Ireland from abroad - to learn Irish.

The other suggestion I would throw into the mix is that some Irish people who are (forced) abroad actually take a great interest in Irish, because it seems to give an anchor to their identity.

But anyway, the suggestions about an Irish Language Industry are way off the mark in terms of the money *actually* spent on Irish.

It is somewhere less than €10m.

See here:

The Abbey gets more!

The Gombeen Man said...

Well, I was forced abroad in the 80's Aonghus, and I certainly did not feel any desire to anchor my identity through an affinity with Gaeilge... something I have never felt in my life.

I would be very, very sceptical of that €10 million figure, and would contend that it does not represent the total spend on organisations, tranlsation (much done "in-house" and hard to quantify as a result, and the Gaeltacht.

aonghus said...

I did say "some" GM, not all.

The question of money is also a tricky one, I admit. For example, is the whole budget of TG4 "money spent on Irish" - does that mean that money spent on RTÉ is "money spent on English"? [If it is, TG4 gives much better value!]

Is maintenace of roads in the Gaeltacht "money spent on Irish"?

I'd say no to both.

These kind of questions make it hard to quantify what is *actually* spent on Irish. But the figure above is a guide to what the Irish language organisations - Conradh na Gaeilge etc. get in funding.

But it is equally difficult to quantify the return on that money. For example, TG4 has spawned a number of small, indepedent TV producers. Some of these are successful exporters, like Telegael - which has twice won an Emmy for childrens programmes it co produces and sells everywhere.

An certainly, even by their own reporting, the 100's of millions per year the Sunday Turbine claimed the Official Language Acts would cost have completely failed to materialise. The best their creative accounting department come up with is a claim that it costs €1m per year. They infalted the headline to €6m by giving figures for the last six years. A highly suspect figure, given that they seem to be claiming the whole administrative budget of the Dept of Community, Rural & Gaeltacht affairs is "money spent on Irish".

The Gombeen Man said...

Well Aonghus, I'm no happier having to pay a licence fee RTE than I am for TG4... considering the only things I look at are the news (but I can get this from other sources) and Podge and Rodge (the only programme I can take seriously on RTE). Not much of a bang for my buck, IMO.

Yes, I am aware of the debate on funding/money spent on Gaeilge. I know that a figure of €1 billion + was proferred in the Dail (Brian O'Shea, Labour). But even I would not consider roadworks in the Gaeltacht as money "money spent on Irish".

I suppose the only reliable way to arrive at exact figures is a "full audit" of money spent, as suggested by O'Shea. And, in fairness, this approach should apply to ALL areas where public money is being spent in the current climate.

aonghus said...

Agreed on both counts.

I'd prefer to see both RTÉ and TG4 being proper publuic service broadcasters like say the ARD in Germany.

RnaG is ad free, and a very good community service.

Anonymous said...

Then there is his 2003 Official Languages Act, requiring public services and publications be provided in Gaeilge. Prior to its introduction, O’Cuiv is on record as saying "the English speakers of the country do not know about the Bill and if they did there is a good chance that we would not succeed in putting it through". Quite.

I cannot believe that o Cuiv said that.Where is it "on record"?

The Gombeen Man said...

He made this pronouncement to a group of Gaelic language enthusiasts, in Spiddal. You can check in the Sunday Tribune, of 22nd June, 2003.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same Eamonn O'Cuiv who campaigned for the airstrips in Cleggan and Inishboffin?? I was quite bemused to see the two empty airstrips recently at a cost of 7million euro each lying dormant. This same politician is now eagerly campaigning to cut social welfare payments for pensioners, yet given half the chance flitters away money on pipe dreams that havent a hope of leaving the ground...... disgracefull.

He needs urgent brain analysis.

The Gombeen Man said...

The very same!!!!

Anonymous said...

I could not resist commenting. Well written!