The only point in teaching Irish is to produce a bilingual population. Otherwise, we might as well just quit about it.
That being so, the bilingual people we are producing must be able to live their lives, to some extent, through Irish.
So we need Irish language TV, newspapers, radio and so on. When Irish speaking people come into contact with the state they have a reasonable expectation that they can be dealt with through Irish.
Otherwise, there’s no point at all. Why teach young people Leaving Cert Irish simply for them never to occasion the language again once they leave the exam hall?
So the aim of a bilingual society is a good one. The idea that the affairs of the State should take this into account is a good one. Then, hopefully, bilingualism will spread to civil society where there is none now.
So far, so good.
This is the approach that the Minister Eamon O’Cuiv has taken. He wants to establish Irish as a credible language within the State and if we say (as we do in the constitution) that Irish is an official language then that’s how we should treat it. And he’s right. Many politicians have talked the talk when it came to Irish. Eamon’s walked the walk.
But, of course, there’s a problem. (Isn’t there always?).
This approach had had some curious results. Dingle will never appear on a State map as Dingle again. Irish has become an official European language. Euro laws seldom read in English, will now be translated into Irish. Commercial semi-state bodies will have to advertise in Irish as well as English.
The problem is that Irish society is nowhere near being bilingual. And the attempt to treat us as if we are bilingual is sure to produce hostility. It smacks of coercion and fanaticism, the things that gave the Irish language such a bad name in the past.
Over the past eighty years there are two main things to be noted about the results of Irish language policy. One: compulsion did not result, for the most part, in a bilingual population. Two: the gaelscoileanna, a civil society initiative, has.
The future of Irish depends on using the tremendous good will that exists for the language, despite the bad vibes in school. By forcing Irish in State law ahead of the progress that it has made recently, the Government is risking that good will.
Try translating something useful
On a day to day basis, it would be much better if the translators beavering away in Brussels were brought home to produce Irish language versions of the main daily papers here.
The Irish Independent already produces two versions of its daily paper. Why not an Irish language version?
Because it costs too much, that’s why. But if the Government redirected some of the money that will be used on headed paper and double advertisements toward a translation service for our newspapers it would have a far greater impact on day-to-day use of Irish.
Most of the translation would be automatic (witness Google). The translators would be only need to tidy it up.
The Government could also spend some money on research making automation translation produce better results.