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Irish is Ireland’s first official language and there are parts of Ireland, called Gaeltacht areas, where Irish – also called Gaelic – is the official language of the community.
But despite that, a recent report commissioned by the state agency responsible for the economic and cultural development of those areas reports that the use of the Irish language is in decline.
The Údarás na Gaeltachta report concludes that Irish will no longer be the primary language in those areas in 10 years. Here & Now’s Lisa Mullins speak with Irish Language Commissioner Rónán Ó Domhnaill.
On the dwindling number of Irish speakers
“English is such a dominant worldwide language and as the world becomes smaller with technological advancements – that’s probably the main reason why people aren’t speaking it as much as heretofore.”
On the gap between the numbers of people who learn and speak Irish
“The problem is when they leave school, those who have grasped a good command of the Irish, very often there is no way to use it. If they want to get a service quickly and promptly and efficiently from the state, a lot of the time people feel they have no choice but to switch to English. When I have meetings with the government departments and state agencies a lot of the time I am told, look, the demand isn’t there. And the argument I make back a lot of the time is that, that’s because the service isn’t there. If the service of equal quality, equal standard, is available, then the demand should follow.”
On why the Irish government’s lack of language choice is problematic
“I suppose it’s denying people a choice to use a language that A, they might be more comfortable in the language that they were raised in, B, the language that they wish to raise their children in or the language that they wish to use with the state – it’s denying people that choice. In the constitution, Irish is recognized as the first official language of the state and that bestows duties on the government, on top of that.”
On why the Irish government does not support the Irish language
“A lot of it boils down to the quite simple fact that there aren’t enough people who are fluent in Irish in state bodies. It’s a quite simple fact and at the same time it’s very complex.”
On the role that Irish plays in Domhnaill’s daily life
“Well I have three young girls, ages 4, 2 1/2 and 6 months, and myself and my wife, every morning we speak Irish to them from morning till night. When they leave our house in the morning to go back to their nursery and play school, everything they do there is conducted through Irish. When they’re out the back garden playing, jumping on the trampoline and kicking football with their neighbors, it’s true Irish. And when they go to visit their grandparents, the conversation is true Irish. And when they watch TV, a lot of their cartoons are true Irish. And that’s what I mean by a community language. And I think there’s a very strong obligation and duty on the state to support that and to keep that alive.”