Occasionally, I am asked what my stance is on the Irish language.
As most people know I was born in Canada and I came to Ireland as an adult. Therefore, I never learned Irish in school, and my current stock of phrases consists of what I’ve been able to pick up from Dublin Transport and listening to Galway Girl in Irish. The high-water mark of my achievements to date consists of acquiring an ‘Irish for Beginners’ book, which is currently gathering dust somewhere in the nether regions of the wardrobe. So, a shining example along the lines of Des Bishop, I am not.
However, my own personal shortcomings notwithstanding, I do believe that the Irish language is an important part of our heritage. In fact, I believe any language is important. Language shapes how we think of the world, it is the framework on which we hang our thoughts, and there are concepts in any language that are untranslatable into any other. Losing Irish would be equivalent to losing a major part of our history, culture and identity. Dragging around a factually dead language isn’t much better. So, we have to ask how we can retain and boost Irish as a living language.
Personally, I think that efforts are best focused on early education (when it is easiest to learn a language) and contemporary culture, i.e. using Irish in a way that is relevant to young people today. It is also important to consider how Irish is taught in schools. Many people whom I’ve spoken to recall their days of learning Irish with a kind of dread that doesn’t bode well for embracing the language later in life. I believe this has already changed considerably, but it is always worth bearing in mind going forward. We should also look at how socio-economic conditions are influencing the ability to learn Irish. Are we providing equal opportunities for those living in disadvantaged areas to learn Irish? I don’t have all the answers, but I am always open to receiving information.
However, clearly as a non-Irish speaker I’m not the expert here, and this is one the reasons I favour participatory decision-making (see here). Any candidate who claims to know everything about every issue is lying. Irish is my particular weak point (for that it isn’t international relations or economics, which are definitely the two front-runners in knowledge gaps among Irish politicians). Most people would try to sweep any lack of personal experience under the rug, quietly toeing the party line or going along with whatever prevailing opinion in the media seems to be. I am committed instead to asking my voters to bring their knowledge and experience to the table and to take part in debating and decision-making so that we can formulate policy that works on the ground and where every voice (whether it be speaking English or Irish) is heard.