Thursday, 18 February 2010

Gaeilgeoirí pay tax too Fred

An tAire Conor Murphy CTR

Sometimes the old notions from Belfast City Hall in the 1980s and early 90s seem unable to leave some of our ‘city fathers’ – or at least that seems to be the case with Cllr Fred Cobain MLA of the Ulster Unionist Party. (Old habits die hard and all that……..)

Fred, who is also chair of the Regional Development committee at Stormont is complaining that ‘public’ money is being spent on providing Irish classes for civil servants working within DRD.

I could go into the whole negative, sectarian, bigoted and repulsive history of Belfast City Council during Fred’s heyday but I think everyone knows the state that particular institution was in just a few years ago and in particular its total hostility to anything relating to the Irish language.

That was then of course, this is now.

The reality is that the Irish speaking community, an ever present and diverse population in Belfast, is growing all of the time. Growing numbers of parents are choosing to educate their children through the medium of Irish, more and more naíscoileanna and bunscoileanna are sprouting up across the Six Counties. I first went to Naíscoil Mhic Airt in the Short Strand in 1987, then onto Bunscoil Phobail Feirste in 1989 and then to Meánscoil Feirste in 1996. Since graduating from university I have worked in the Irish medium sector but as well as this I have the ability to go about my life from day to day through Irish.

Whether its watching TG4 or listening to Belfast’s Raidió Fáilte; whether its getting my news online from An Druma Mór or Nuacht24; its might mean accessing my money out of an ATM that operates in Irish, or getting my shopping from the fully bilingual Sainsbury’s Store in Andersontown; it means meeting friends for lunch in Caife Feirste in the heart of the Gaeltacht Quarter; it means going for a pint in Cumann Cluain Ard or Maddens or Kelly’s; it means heading to see a concert or exhibition in An Droichead in south Belfast; it means working on the ground to help the growth of the language in the Short Strand through Dóchas na Trá; it means campaigning for an Acht na Gaeilge and it means having an option if I wanted to send children of mine to a range of first class schools which happen to be Gaelscoileanna.

The list is endless, but it isn’t unique to me, or a few dozen former Bunscoil students, this list applies to thousands of citizens across the north and hundreds of thousands across Ireland. People from all over the world are coming here to learn one of Europe’s oldest and richest languages. Last year some friends of mine were attending classes in the Gaeltacht in Dún na nGall and were learning alongside students from the USA, from Australia, from Sweden and even as far away as Japan. Recently it was announced that a University in China is to offer its students a course on the Irish Language.

And today we hear the news that the Department for Regional Development in the north is offering Irish classes for their civil servants. The key aspect of this for me is that the classes are fully subscribed, with a waiting list of people looking to avail of more ranganna.

The DRD has been to the fore in the promotion of the language since Minister Conor Murphy came into office; from the bilingual sign outside their headquarters in Adelaide Street in the heart of Belfast, to bilingual advertisements in the main local papers, to the Irish language adverts broadcast on Raidió Fáilte informing people of their many services. Translink have also published literature aimed at students in the Irish Medium Sector.

I suppose unsurprising, the announcement of the classes was met with opposition from Fred Cobain. He said;

"It doesn't matter if it cost £1,500 or £5, that's not the issue - it's public money," said Mr Cobain, who is chairman of the Assembly's Regional Development Committee.
"If people want to learn the Irish language, I'm perfectly happy for them to do this, but it has to be at their own expense."

So if we adhere to Fred’s view then the development of the language would receive no government investment or support, of course for many of us that was the case for a long enough time, but as I said earlier, that was then, this is now.
The notion that I, as someone who chooses to live my life through Irish does so to upset a broad section of our society is a nonsense, in fact it borders on offensive!
The idea that my choosing to speak Irish is ok "so long as I do it in private" is simply another form of prejudice and bigotry, all be it a slightly veiled version.
I cherish the fact that I am in a position to speak the native language of this country; I am hugely conscious of the fact that it is a gift that my parents imparted onto me by making the hugely difficult decision (because it was a difficult decision at the time my brothers and I began school) to send me three miles across the city each and every morning so that I would have an education through Irish.
They didn't make that decision to offend anyone else, it was a concious, informed and I believe beneficial decision and I thank them for that. I'm sure other pupils who have passed through the system feel the same way with regard to their parents and the decision they made.
Readers should bear in mind that the decision to do that back then really wasn't an easy one. Schools weren't funded, there wasn't as many as there are today, there wasn't always a great deal of teachers, the schools were usually housed in prefab huts; our school bus passed 3 permanent UDR and RUC checkpoints every morning before it even got to the Ormeau Road and almost daily it was stopped and held for a period of time, usually with one of our parents, who were volunteering on the bus to keep an eye on us, being taken off to be more often than not, searched, harrassed and sometimes arrested.
But I wanted to update this post because I have seen the issue debated on other blogs. Put simply, it offends me when someone suggests my very real love for the language is based solely on the premise of offending others or that it is legitimate so long as I go away somewhere and do it privately, as though it was something to be ashamed of is a nonsense.The core issue here is that the new generation of Irish speakers simply aren't tolerating or accepting that notion anymore. The days of 'croppy lie down' are well and truly gone. Buíochas le Dia!

The reality of this situation is that DRD, much like ALL of the departments, has obligations under the European Charter in relation to the promotion of the Irish language.

Of course when Fred talks about public money he forgets that Gaeilgeoirí pay taxes too; we are entitled to this service, we contribute to the economy through all the things I listed above, as well as through the media and creative industries. These classes were primarily sought out by staff within DRD who recognise their obligations, who see the reality of an ever growing Irish speaking population and the fact that their department is, thankfully, moving into an inclusive and unprecedented place.

I say all power and fair play to them!! Go n-eirí libh!

This news, coupled with the news that the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund has received a £12million boost and that there is an additional £8million for the development of infrastructural Irish language projects, simply goes to show that we are continuing to move forward, continuing to make the language open, available and accessible to more and more people.

Despite what Fred and people of a similar view think, An Ghaeilge has been here for quite some time, it has survived through quite a lot, it enriches all of our cultural experiences and for some of us even our lives, to me, that’s a good thing.

Beirigí Bua!!

PS: Scríobh mé an bhlag seo i mBéarla mar ba mhaith liom na phointí atá ann a leathnú amach i measc an phobail nach bhfuil Gaeilge acu, sílm go bhfuil an t-ábhar tábhachtach do níos mó na Gaeilgeoirí amháin. GRMA

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