I was alerted to the radio this morning by the sound of elongated, strident-yet-strangulated, middle-class Dublin vowels issuing forth. Nothing new in that, you might say - but these ones were dripping with enraged indignation. “Maybe it’s a McDonalds opening up on Shrewsbury Road?” I thought, “or a Dalkeyite who regrets spending all that inheritance money on property, and wants compensation?”. Whatever it was, they were not happy. Then I heard them utter the phrase “minority rights”, so I turned up the volume a bit.
Turns out it was one of the Irish Language enthusiasts who got a slot in yesterday’s Irish Times letters page to condemn Frank Feighan's appointment as Fine Gael’s Gaeltacht spokesman. Feighan, it seems, has “very limited Irish (Gaeilge)”. Poet Gabriel Rosenstock, who has a weekly column in the paper, as Gaeilge of course, was one of the signatories.
Feighan was then wheeled on to Morning Ireland to apologetically defend his position, pointing out that he wasn’t the first appointee, or indeed minister, so lacking. He argued that the administrative and day-to-day running of the region did not demand such language proficiency, but was taking Gaelic grinds just the same - presumably to appease his purist foes.
Whatever about all that, I find it truly, sickeningly galling to hear members of the Irish Language Lobby talking about “minority rights”. It is a particularly tasteless kind of parody, and a base slur on the many people in this country who really do suffer discrimination on an everyday basis. In contrast, members of the Irish Language Lobby in Ireland are anything but a put-upon minority – they are a privileged elite who use their chosen language to put those who do not speak it at a disadvantage in education and employment, particularly in the State sector. But they do like to put on “the poor mouth”.
A report published by the University of Limerick in January of this year found that “Irish was the language of the elite in Ireland… with speakers enjoying higher income than the rest of the population” (Irish Times, Jan 9th, 2010).
Key findings were:
- Non-speakers of Irish are twice as likely to be unemployed as their Irish-speaking counterparts.
- 42 per cent of Irish speakers worked in senior professional, managerial or technical jobs, compared to 27 per cent of non-speakers.
- Just 12 per cent of Irish speakers are in semi or unskilled jobs, compared to 20 per cent of non-speakers.
- Irish speakers were also seen to enjoy the advantage of a network of social contacts and all of the perks that go with such a network.
- 22 per cent of Gaelscoileanna sent all their Leaving Cert students to third level, compared to a progression average of 7 per cent (2009 Irish Times Feeder Schools List).
So much for “minority rights” then. But I suppose elites are minorities too, in their own way.
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