Above: A photo from Dublin’s Pop Up Gaeltacht. Taken from their Facebook page. Elsewhere this headmelt of a shot made its way to us from the same night. The Taoiseach posing with his illustration in rabble. Bit like that time Marty McFly was flirting with his own ma?
Leo Varadkar’s cameo appearance at Dublin’s Pop-Up Gaeltacht last Thursday on November 30th seemed like a good photo op and PR exercise at the time – even those Fine Gael voters who don’t speak Irish at least say it’s good other people do. Patrick McCusker was prompted to pen a cupla focal about the Blueshirts and our dear old teanga.
This current Fine Gael government has been quick to capitalise on the good press that being seen to care about Irish language brings. His predecessor Enda Kenny was so proudly fluent in Irish that he occasionally refused to answer English-language questions in the Dáil.
It’d have looked even better if his government hadn’t demonstrated how little Fine Gael actually care about the Irish language and some of our most vulnerable communities on the very same day.
Josepha Madigan was appointed Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. It’s an unusually rapid rise to a ministerial post, seeing as she’s only been a TD since the 2016 election. Of course, this by no means disqualifies her for the position. What should do is that she can’t speak Irish and has admitted she has no particular inclination to learn.
Madigan’s appointment is yet another example from the last few years of how little they actually care. In fact, they have relished inflicting austerity on some of the most deprived parts of Ireland by cutting back on Gaeltacht funding.
There has been an overall cut of 75% in funding to Údarás na Gaeltachta since 2008, which has left one of the few bodies with the clout and experience to create work in the Gaeltacht in dire straits. This has been combined with a new Gaeltacht policy that makes communities develop their own plans for language revival and self-reliance.
The inevitable outcome is that the surviving Gaeltacht areas are in crisis. The local economies in villages such as Falcarragh in Donegal have become nearly totally dependent on English-speaking tourists. The paucity of more secure work means that young people growing up in these communities have little choice but to move to Dublin or further afield to find jobs, and many Gaeltacht villages are practically empty during the working week as a result.
The 2016 census showed that only 66.3% of people living in Gaeltacht areas could speak Irish. Only 21% of Gaeltacht residents said that they spoke it daily. Some of our country’s poorest and most deprived areas are being allowed to wither thanks to the government’s neglect of the Irish language, with one Kerry Gaeltacht declining by as much as 41% in recent years.
We wouldn’t accept a Minister for Finance who admitted ignorance of economics and tried to make up for it by telling us they’d been up late reading the Wikipedia article on Milton Friedman – why should we be happy with yet another Minister for the Gaeltacht who can’t speak Irish?
Some of our country’s most vulnerable citizens are being failed by government indifference, and no amount of photo ops or Dáil speeches will change that.
If you liked this piece, why not check out this piece on Comhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann (Society of the Musicians of Ireland)?