Monday, 6 December 2010

Discriminate against non-Gaeilge speakers in Civil Service, says language commissioner

In “Patterns of Ethnic Separatism”, David L. Horowitz sees processes of national secession being  driven by emerging elites who see their interests best served by autonomy. Tom Garvin, in “Preventing the Future: Why was Ireland so poor for so long?” sums the theory up thus:

“For Horowitz, the motor of secession is clearly driven by elite ambitions. Backward areas which have a cadre of relatively well-educated people… are reluctant to secede and only finally do so under exceptional pressure such as extreme discrimination, denial of educational opportunity, physical threat, or undermining of their local power base. Educationally backward elites in backward or advanced regions secede early if they can get away with it…”

It is mildly debatable which model – educationally advanced or backward – applied to the elite behind the Irish independence movement in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.  It is clear, though, that the cultural vehicles for that movement consisted of neo-Gaelicism (the "return" to an idealised, Gaelic-speaking, rural-based Ireland) and Catholicism.

Upon acquiring independence, the first things the new Irish ruling class did was begin transforming the Civil Service and the educational systems to bring about a Gaelic, Catholic Ireland.  Driven by the ideal of reviving Gaeilge as the spoken language of the new State, they made it compulsory for entry into the Civil Service and a mandatory requirement to attain the Leaving Certificate in schools.

The higher ranks of the Civil Service became populated with linguistic evangelists, many of them Gaelic Leaguers. Effectively, the State bureaucratic apparatus and the schools were little more than tools to bring about Dev’s Ireland of comely maidens and sturdy youths...  Gaeilge-speaking, of course.  A nonsense project, and doomed to failure from the start.

It seems, however, that the old Gaelic League rump within the Civil Service and Government quangos is still in business. In 1973, a Fine Gael/Labour coalition abolished Gaeilge as a requirement for entry into the Civil Service, but now  today’s revivalists want to turn back the clock – without being quite so blatant.

In last Monday’s Irish Times, Anne Lucey reported that language commissar - sorry, commissioner - Sean O Cuirreain called for “positive discrimination” in the public service for Gaelic speakers, due to falling numbers of civil servants who speak the language.

O Cuirreain asserted that only 1.5% of administrative CS staff could provide services as Gaeilge, compared to 3% in 2005.  He described this state of affairs as a “scandal” - and all despite the fact that “there was strong official recognition of the language, It was mentioned in 140 Acts, and some €700 million a year was spent teaching it.”

According to census figures, only 72,000 people (outside the education system) claim to speak Gaeilge on a daily basis.  It is unknown how many of this number would demand all discourse with Civil Service offices to be conducted “as Gaeilge”, but it is known that there is a distinct lack of demand for government and council documents in that language (Clare County council translated three development plans in 2009, at a cost of €30,000. Not one was bought).

Similarly, the Irish Times reported in February of that year that only 0.5% of Government websites were accessed through their Gaeilge versions. This is not so surprising, for there is not one person in the country who speaks Gaeilge alone. Not one. They are all English speakers.

For what it is worth to the Gaeilgeoirs, “positive discrimination” for them exists at this very minute in the Civil Service. Gaeilge speakers/enthusiasts get extra marks for internal promotions exams, for instance.  It is also likely that sitting a Civil Service entry exam with the “optional” Gaeilge paper must confer some kind of advantage too.

The bare fact is that language hobbyists and careerists are calling for non Gaeilge-speaking workers, both native and non-native, to be further discriminated against in the sphere of public service employment.  And at a time when jobs are becoming ever more scarce.

That is the real scandal.

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anna said...

Totally agree GM man,
I’m a public servant: You can do an exam in Irish proficiency. The civil service language centre had an Irish subsection called Gaeleagras, which was abolished in Sept 2010 ( mentioned earlier on this blog). Anyway Gaeleagras did the test - if you passed you got 5% added to your marks at any Internal promotion interview, EVEN IF THAT IV was held in ENGLISH* (* as it most likely would be - few on the IV panel would be able to conduct an IV in Irish)
And that weighting carried on for about 5 yrs- oh and Even after that it was diluted to an extra 3% for a further 2 yrs or so. And after that, the extra weighting had reached its sell- by date and you had to do the Proficiency test again.
I have NOTHING against Irish - only the idiotic an unfair methods used to promote it, e.g.,
1)no extra weighting at IV for 6 yrs 3rd level education as I have.;
2)or even for those with no third level education- but years of experience in the workforce.
So an inexperienced 20 yr old , 2 yr s in public service , the office waster, bad at interviews, no qualifications beyond a Luke warm Leaving cert. BUT whose only talent is being good at Irish could just nudge past those with the extra abilities in (1) and (2) above:
SO HOW does promoting Irish speakers uber alle make a better civil service???
I’ll say AGAIN;( Never mind the nonsensical claim in the constitution- which should never have been put there) :
IRISH is not THE language of the country : it is - along with ENGLISH, A LANGUAGE of the country:
You wouldn’t get the Welsh and Scottish parliaments wasting untold millions ( badly needed for health service and job creation) pretending that the minority language of the country is the main one.
Surely this Huge economic crisis is the apt time to End this nonsense- down with this sort of thing!
BUT nothing like continually playing an Irish fiddle while our county burns.

anna said...

I saw that article; what the Irish language commissioner Actually said was ( roughly)
‘When the civil service starts recruiting again, after economic crisis has eased, it SHOULD positively discriminate in favour of Irish speakers among new entrants!!!!'
WHY?? it's true, it’s just to create an artificial 'need' for an Irish language industry-
in 8 years as a busy civil servant who has received a high volume of post, I have had TWO letters in Irish.
BUT just carry on with the FICTION that Irish is The language of the country: I have just looked at the logo of that commissioner on The GN post: it translates as ‘The LANGUAGE Commission’
What language would that be?? The one spoken by 4% or the one spoken by 100% of the population.?
A phrase I often come across on the basic 3 day language course I went on at the now defunct Gaeleagras translates as ‘ A nation without a language , is a nation without a soul.’
Someone please translate phrase below into Irish ( so I can forward it to Gaeleagras if it ever resumes its classes)
‘A nation without common purpose is a nation without a soul: A nation with a common purpose cares more about putting the nation’s taxes into health, jobs, housing & education than nonsensical language promotion for the benefit of a tiny % of its population/’

Anonymous said...

¨Positive discrimination¨ sounds very contradictory to me and makes it clear that the people advocating such idea are for ¨Ireland for the Irish¨. Considering I'm not one and live in Ireland I can only find this idea very very sad.

Anonymous said...

I read your article with great interest, however, I must say that I disagree with many of the points raised.

As taxpayers I feel that Irish speakers should be entitled to interact with the state in the official first language of the country and the only remaining indigineous language to this country. If in order to facillitate this we need to incentivise Irish in public service jobs than so be it.

I know that people often question the constitutional and legislative position of Irish. If it is so problematic why don't people organise a campaign against it instead of sitting on the fence firing broadsides.

With regards to the document published by Clare County Council little was reported regarding the fact that the English language version was bought by only about 7 people, also the reports were free to access online. I don't agree with the requirement that some documents are translated into Irish and I would much prefer to see the money siphoned on more worthwhile community or education based projects to promote the language. However, one has to contextualise.

Just for your own curiousity there are people in Ireland who don't speak English. They would chiefly be from Gaeltacht areas and are under 4 years of age or over 70. There would also be many persons from the Gaeltacht who are much more comfortable speaking Irish than English, which one would expect with ones mother tongue.

In relation to Anna's comments regarding Welsh language expenditure I think you will find that the Welsh and British assemblies spend quite lot on Welsh and in fact there language legislation was one of the catalyst in the Official Languages Act 2003

The Gombeen Man said...

190 people purchased the English language version of the Clare County Council document not, as you contend, 7. (Irish Times)

Your assertion that there are Gaeilge-only speakers in Ireland is also fallacious (under 4 years of age??? Are they going to be on the blower to a Government department demanding to practise their Gaelic skills?).

There are no monoglot Gaeilge speakers in Ireland, according to the 2002 Census. The only non-English speakers in the country are new arrivals to our shores who are suffering cutbacks in the provision of English language teaching, while the Gaeilge Lobby continues to feather its own nest.

As a taxpayer, I do not think the Civil Service should be used to further the career of Gaelic speakers. I do not think the majority of our population should be discriminated against on the alter of linguistic revivalism.

As for the Constitutional position of Gaeilge, I think there should be a referendum on it, on which everyone over 18 in the country should get the opportunity to vote.

I don't have the power to call it, however.

Anonymous said...

"As for the Constitutional position of Gaeilge, I think there should be a referendum on it, on which everyone over 18 in the country should get the opportunity to vote.

I don't have the power to call it, however."

You do however have an opportunity to stop being an internet warrior and organise a campaign to bring about such a referendum, one only has to look at the success of the campaign to get Irish as an official language of the EU and the more recent Guth na Gaeltachta campaign against the Bord Snip to see what organised campaigning can do.

If you really have a problem with what people are doing for Irish stop complaining about it and do something about it.

The Gombeen Man said...

We all have to start somewhere. The blog does its bit.

Dakota said...

It goes to show exactly the priorities some senior civil servant's have and had. Dancing at imaginary crossroads when vast numbers of the population are leaving in droves.

anna said...

Thanks to writer above who doesn’t seem fanatical but remember , a lot of arguments used to advance Irish are flimsy and often nonsensical;
1) It should NEVER have been made 1sr language- and if the whole population really agreed with that sentiment, then why after 90 yrs and untold billions spent teaching it is everyone not speaking it?? You can’t even say its poor teaching- many kids overcome poor teaching by reading up on the subjects themselves. The answer is LACK of Enthusiasm: I have taught myself many things without even going to classes; because of my Enthusiasm for those subjects.
2) Welsh is more of a living language than Irish. A lot of money therefore is spent on promoting welsh. HOWEVER Scottish & Welsh parliaments DO make a pretence that Gaelic and welsh are first language s of their countries. NOR are those languages essential to get a good college place far from it: I could easily apply to get on a good degree in Wales or Scottish based on the good grade I have in GCSE/ A Level and Leaving Cert subject- which don’t include welsh, Gaelic or Irish. Yet here Irish people whose first language is English, and whose ancestors spoke English for centuries are still penalised on college entry- if they don’t have an Irish language LC pass.
3) Welsh and Scottish civil servants are most Definitely Not given more marks at promotion interviews if they speak those languages.
3)If something was an indigenous language centuries ago why should it be prioritized now? Should the population of Great Britain stop speaking English ( Anglos Saxon invaders came over @ 1000 yrs.(?) and start speaking Gaelic/ Welsh /Cornish- the indigenous languages of that island. ?
Should population of New York abandon English in favour of Mohawk?
4) How long does language have to be around in a country - before it can qualify as an indigenous language? How long has English been spoken in this country?
5) Will the speaking of English never be acceptable; in this country ?? That’s a REAL SHAME-= AS IT IS THE 1ST LANGUAGE OF 96% OF OUR POPULATION.
6) The writer says he would like to see some of the money spent on the teaching of Irish being maybe spread out to community projects etc. This seems to imply that Irish is some little hobby that gets just a little grant - so maybe a little should be spread around to the Irish Seed savers association, etc. The Irish language industry is Huge. A Huge amount of moony is wasted needlessly in promoting it as the first official language- money that could be spent on crumbling schools and desperately needed hospital wards.,
BY the way I don’t advocate for a moment letting the language die out- money can still be allocated to keep the language alive , without the shocking waste of money that’s gone on for 90 yrs promoting a ‘first ‘ language that is not the mother tongue of 96% of the population

Anonymous said...

Other than addressing Mr Speaker in Irish the Finance Minister delivered the budget speech in English. So what the hell is all the fuss about? Irish is, or it isn’t, the first language. Clearly it ain’t.

anna said...

This comment Isn't about Irish- but it's an historic day, so maybe the blog could record the following:
Q: What's the difference between Iceland and Ireland?
A: One letter and 6 months down the line?
True: BUT that was SO 2008-
Q; What's the difference between Iceland and Ireland?
A: On 7 Dec 2010 Ireland announced it's worst ever budget, still robbing from the poorest to insulate the richest- and the Irish Times announced Iceland to be OUT of recession.

Braoin said...

Someone please translate phrase below into Irish ( so I can forward it to Gaeleagras if it ever resumes its classes)
‘A nation without common purpose is a nation without a soul: A nation with a common purpose cares more about putting the nation’s taxes into health, jobs, housing & education than nonsensical language promotion for the benefit of a tiny % of its population/’

OK, here you are:

Náisiún gan cuspóir coiteann is náisiún gan anam é. Is mó ag náisiún a bhfuil cuspóir coiteann aige an t-ioncam ó cháin a chur isteach i gcúrsaí sláinte, jabanna, i dtithíocht agus in oideachas seachas é a chur isteach i gcur chun cinn seafóideach teanga ar mhaithe le céatadán fíorbheag dá dhaonra.

The Gombeen Man said...

Thanks, Braoin. Well said.

Anonymous said...

I was raised by an Irish mother who loved speaking Irish and I picked up a word or two or more. This was in England where she ended up because, short of starving to death, she reluctantly left her home with her husband and a young family to survive. They got work and were successful, unlike their sisters and brothers who were left behind but who inherited the farms.Their one ambition was to come home, we all waited to come home and we sang all the old songs and "come all ye`s" with the best of them.We got medals for Irish dancing and wore the shamrock every March.We went to Irish dances and clung to our countrymen and traditions. Our strong Irish catholic upbringing rivalled anything that was happening in Ireland.
Then with five children - highly educated and all professionals - they came back here to live. We ALL came back. Three of us were teachers - one secondary with English, Art and Religion, two primary trained (one who specialised as a special education teacher), one a private secretary and one an engineer. The teachers of us were told we were not qualified, we did not have an Irish qualification even though the secondary teacher never needed it except to read her timetable on the notice board. Special needs children are exempt from Irish as indeed are all of those "non nationals" or whatever the correct political term is now. The diversity in classes is overwhelming and the needs of the average modern day pupil could not have been imagined 10 - 15 years ago. When we arrived in Ireland there was such a shortage of teachers, however it was as acceptable to employ a leaving cert student with Irish as it was to employ those who trained in the UK, I mean they all got the same rate of pay - that of an unqualified teacher. We embraced the language and went to lessons but in the absence of a curriculum or guidelines from the department of education, learning to speak the language was left up to a willing volunteer who tried their best. Then to be told that it didn`t matter how good our language skills were we would never pass the exam because we didn`t have the `blas`.
Irish is for the Irish and as far as I can see that is a very tightly defined concept and only those born here are entitled to use it. And all this in a country where the curriculum is by and large, delivered through English. Respect for diversity and tolerance of difference across the board is important on all sides and a sense of the reality of what it is to live in modern day Ireland

bhrionglóid Dhún na nGall

The Gombeen Man said...

Sure... and respect for diversity is best served by not having nonsensical Gaeilge langauge requirements serving as artificial barriers to employment and career progression.

Anonymous said...


If I may, my experience of so-called Irish Ireland is good, but with a back-drop of bigotry. But hey, I'll get over it, it won't change and its part of the deal. My own space is found and they are not driving me out, they're going themselves.

My parents were Irish, brought up in Birmingham, many a paddy joke was told there. I'd come to visit Mayo as a child and loved the life and the open spaces. Moved back 15 years ago to look after my own. Applied for a teaching job, told by the Principal he would'nt have even been interviewed me, if he'd have known I had been born and brought up in England. Hope things will change, but pigs can fly.