Brian Cowen's rhetoric on Irish language

DJP

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During Cowen's first leaders questions as Taoiseach in the Dáil Enda Kenny spoke at length to him as Gaeilge; said that he would like to see more Dáil business conducted as Gaeilge and asked him a health related question as Gaeilge.

Brian Cowen answered him in Irish in relation to promoting Irish in a general way but did not say anything about having more business in the Dáil done through Irish or about the health question. I presumed he didn't answer the latter because it was a difficult question.

I've come to the conclusion over the last while since Brian Cowen became Taoiseach that he is not actually fluent in Irish. Like me he is competent in the language but he is not fluent.

I commend him for making the effort and unlike Brian Lenihan I do believe that he likes/loves the language and not simply uses it in a careerist way (if you know what I mean).

I judge him on the language issue(s) by what he does for the language. Speaking it is the first and a very positive step. Auditing the money spent on it like Fine Gael and Labour are in favour of would also be a positive move. As would making it optional for the Leaving Certificate given that half of the country agree and given that half of those (25% of the population) believe strongly that it should be optional. Of course see the glass as being half-full on this issue but I wish anybody in favour of the status quo on this topic good luck in convincing "the other half" (particularly the 25% of our population who believe strongly that it should be optional) that the policy should be continued.

I left Fine Gael because (although I have still never met either of them) I thought that I identified more with Brian Cowen from what I could see on a personal basis than I would with Enda Kenny. Although I was a committee member in Dublin of Irish language organisation Gael-Taca I am not stupid enough to believe that the Irish language issue in Ireland is the most important issue but having judged Brian Cowen so far on the language I find him- like his party- at best unimpressive.

Finally, the Government are going to announce a 20 year national plan for the language by the end of the year. This has never happened before. Oh wait- hold on it's November. Like others targets of the Government I think this one won't be met either. As far as the language issue goes this either will make or break Brian Cowen in the eyes of people who love the language. The ball is in the Government's court.
 


Fun with Irish

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Brian Cowen and the Revival of Irish

I think you're being too hard on Cowen in relation to reviving Irish. The Irish people as a whole simply won't speak it and no politician can make them. What the politicians can do, and have done, is to pass laws which say it is to be used in certain areas of state activity, and have employed state officials to use Irish in that context. Government can do no more. The population is fond of Irish as a political symbol and it was to this that Cowen was appealing when he launched his taoiseach-ship with the Cupla Focal. The population accepts this: officials 'do' Irish for reasons that seem good to officials, and there's no harm in it. It shows that we're Irish.

Of course, this grates on those citizens who are fond of Irish as a language and wish to see it used as such. Naturally, this section of society is also supported by the state too, with dedicated schools etc. But their's is a minority interest.
 

joel

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I think you're being too hard on Cowen in relation to reviving Irish. The Irish people as a whole simply won't speak it and no politician can make them. What the politicians can do, and have done, is to pass laws which say it is to be used in certain areas of state activity, and have employed state officials to use Irish in that context. Government can do no more. The population is fond of Irish as a political symbol and it was to this that Cowen was appealing when he launched his taoiseach-ship with the Cupla Focal. The population accepts this: officials 'do' Irish for reasons that seem good to officials, and there's no harm in it. It shows that we're Irish.

Of course, this grates on those citizens who are fond of Irish as a language and wish to see it used as such. Naturally, this section of society is also supported by the state too, with dedicated schools etc. But their's is a minority interest.

You don't want Irish, do you? - and for political reasons.
 

malman

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Having Irish compulsory is very worth while in theory. The problem as I see it is that it is not treated as a living language. The reason why people do not want to learn the language is because it is perceived as a difficult language to learn. The language is not treated as a living language but rather it is taught just like French or German; people are bound to resent having to learn it because of this. If we are not going have Irish as a compulsory language then the teaching of it should be radically changed first. Children should be speaking the language everyday and not just in the Irish class. It needs to be conversation based. Will-is-ad?
 

DJP

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Having Irish compulsory is very worth while in theory. The problem as I see it is that it is not treated as a living language. The reason why people do not want to learn the language is because it is perceived as a difficult language to learn. The language is not treated as a living language but rather it is taught just like French or German; people are bound to resent having to learn it because of this. If we are not going have Irish as a compulsory language then the teaching of it should be radically changed first. Children should be speaking the language everyday and not just in the Irish class. It needs to be conversation based.
40% of the Leaving Irish exam will be going on oral Irish in the next year or two. I don't know about the Junior.

The problem is that half of the country according to polls think that the language should be optional for the Leaving Cert and half of these (25% of the population) believe strongly that it should be.
 

joel

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40% of the Leaving Irish exam will be going on oral Irish in the next year or two. I don't know about the Junior.

The problem is that half of the country according to polls think that the language should be optional for the Leaving Cert and half of these (25% of the population) believe strongly that it should be.

No second class Irish!
 

DJP

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No second class Irish!
I was in favour of the status quo in relation to it being required/compulsory. I know what it feels like to be in favour of it being required. Most Irish people like Irish and I do think that it would be possible in the event of movement on several fronts for 75% of the population to be in favour of it being required or compulsory but the 25% who believe strongly it should be optional minds won't be changed. That is one in every four people. They are to be found virtually everywhere. How do you change their minds??? The status quo on this issue feeds negativity and that negativity will never be eradicated.

The glass IS half full. The language has grown enough over the last 20 years in particular with the growth in Gaelscoileanna and TG4 for it to be optional.I'd say, based on one two polls, that 50% of young people would still study Irish for the Leaving Cert in the event of it being optional. I can't see what is wrong with this.

The status quo on this issue is like a national "project". The problem is that most people don't feel part of it. It's romantic and even most people who do subscribe to it don't speak Irish. While most of the people who do agree with this "project" like Irish they have a tokenistic attitude to the language. Having students studying Irish for the Leaving Cert who actually want to study it will make the language grow.
 

mccafferty cat

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Cowen made a big play of his "love" of the Irish language in his acceptance speech. To me, it rang very hollow, and it reminded me of Gordon Brown's repeated grasping of "Britishness" when he took over.

When men who stand for nothing suddenly find themselves under a microscope, they often turn to patriotism and love of the flag to paint themselves as visionaries.

As several journalists pointed out earlier in the year, Cowen was not exactly noted for his love of Irish up to his election as Taosieach, and rarely if ever used it in the Dáil
 

joel

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I was in favour of the status quo in relation to it being required/compulsory. I know what it feels like to be in favour of it being required. Most Irish people like Irish and I do think that it would be possible in the event of movement on several fronts for 75% of the population to be in favour of it being required or compulsory but the 25% who believe strongly it should be optional minds won't be changed. That is one in every four people. They are to be found virtually everywhere. How do you change their minds??? The status quo on this issue feeds negativity and that negativity will never be eradicated.

The glass IS half full. The language has grown enough over the last 20 years in particular with the growth in Gaelscoileanna and TG4 for it to be optional.I'd say, based on one two polls, that 50% of young people would still study Irish for the Leaving Cert in the event of it being optional. I can't see what is wrong with this.

The status quo on this issue is like a national "project". The problem is that most people don't feel part of it. It's romantic and even most people who do subscribe to it don't speak Irish. While most of the people who do agree with this "project" like Irish they have a tokenistic attitude to the language. Having students studying Irish for the Leaving Cert who actually want to study it will make the language grow.

Make that apply to ALL subjects then - English, Maths, science, etc. Only those who are 100% popular will be taught.
 

DJP

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Make that apply to ALL subjects then - English, Maths, science, etc. Only those who are 100% popular will be taught.
Actually English and Maths are made compulsory by the schools and not the Department as they are required for most third level courses. Irish is made compulsory by the schools.
 

sparkey321

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No second class Irish!
WTF are you taking about ?

Irish (if optional) could be studies by those who actually want to learn it without having to share a classroom with those that don't.

Compulsory Irish has done nothing for the language but build resentment.
 

florin

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No-one can learn a language if it's taught in a daily 30 mins. A single month of nothing but Irish would give a solid fluency to all students. The same would happen with Fr/Ger, it's often said how important foreign languages are but I know people who got a C in honours LC who would struggle to order a sandwich.
 

Fun with Irish

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"Having Irish compulsory is very worth while in theory. The problem as I see it is that it is not treated as a living language.......... "
***********
It is only in a small number of circumstances that Irish needs to be taught as a living language for the simple reason that very few people can or want to use it as a living language. The reality is that, in the main, it has to be taught as a dead language such as Latin. But it does not have to be a living language in order to serve its purpose as a political symbol. This purpose is well served as things stand with Irish in providing a national token of independance.
 

Fun with Irish

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Actually English and Maths are made compulsory by the schools and not the Department as they are required for most third level courses. Irish is made compulsory by the schools.
**********************

In the old Rules and Programmes for Secondary Schools, after the listing of subjects that may be taken in the Leaving Cert., Para 21 (b) stated: "The approved course for recognised senior pupils must include not less than five of the subjects specified in (2) (b) of this rule, of which one shall be Irish."

I guess that English and Maths are compulsory as the result of a consensus in society, whereas Irish has to be made compulsory by government regulation, because there is not the same consensus.
 
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Speaking as a sometime Irish teacher and a fulltime advocate of the language (A distinction I feel it important to bring to the fore right from the off), there are a couple of issues raised here, that I feel I should offer my two cents on.

For starters, the Government have in fact brought to a vote the 20 year strategy for the language, and before the end of the year. I'm no advocate of anything they do at this moment in time, but do feel it important to acknowledge this.

The problem is that passing a nationally agreed strategy to promote a flagging language, and actually ponying up with the cash to do the same, are not the same thing. Essentially, we have between 12 and 18 years to save the language, in any form other than the preserve of the Academic and the fanatically Nationalistic. In cultural terms, to fail to do so would constitute an act of vandalism that the tongue would never ever recover from.

I cannot agree more that the language has been taught in a strange, confrontational, uninspired, and above all else easily resented manner, for years, dating back to the foundation of the state. It has also at various points been viewed as the preserve of the elite, a select group of civil servants and political activists, who could be viewed as running a closed shop.

This does not change the fact however, that there are quite a few out there who would like to see the language return to former glories, and for unselfish, accessible to all reasons.

The education system in this country, whilst far from perfect has one major strength: It may be harsh, and it may be tough to get through, but ultimately every student engaged in it gets the same crack of the whip. Be they the progeny of the fee-paying well-off, or the child forced through circumstance to attend the local government sponsored tech, with its associated problems. Both of them get the same access to the same exams, and the same preparatory material. What they choose to do with that access is entirely up to them, and both will get out exactly what they put in.

It seems ironic to an extent therefore that both will, in times gone by, have had 'Péig' rammed down their throats to the exact same degree. Some will have embraced it, some will have been imbued with a hatred for the language that will go to their grave with them.

This is unacceptable, and that is why several organisations out there were made part of the consultation process on this twenty year plan. Several recommendations, that I personally feel could be a step in the right direction, as well as fairly cost-effective in the grander scheme of things, have emerged.

One of them is the teaching, at a primary level, of either music or physical education through Irish, thus showing younger children that the language is not solely the preserve of the classroom. It would show rather, that the language is something normal, everyday, and to be embraced and celebrated. Or so goes the theory.

As for the compulsory study of the language to leaving certificate level, there is an argument here that is all too often overlooked in the heat of the argument. Irish is not a latin-derived language, as are most of our Western European counterparts. This means that the grammar, syntax, oral and written use, are utterly utterly different. In educational terms, this provides the Irish speaker, be it as a first or second language, with a distinct advantage in later life. Because Irish is so different to any other European language, once a learner has wrapped their heads around it, any and all of the other latin-derivatives pose far less of a challenge to the learner.

This raised its head a couple of weeks ago, with the arguments in the British Parliament both for and against the loaning of cash to the Irish Government, to finance our current economic woes. One of the arguments posed, again and again, was that the Irish corporate tax rate of 12.5% was utterly unfair in comparison to the higher UK rate. A sound enough argument, one would have thought, but one that also overlooks another distinct advantage to a multi-national company seeking to set up in Ireland: We have linguists here, that can pick up further languages if push comes to shove, due in part to their understanding of their native tongue, and the different linguistic conventions inherrent in it.

This may appear a bit of a simplification, and it's a debate for another day, but the basic tenet is this: Google customers in Spain / Mexico / Latin America can pick up a phone, ring Dublin, and speak to someone with Spanish. French customers can pick up a phone and speak to someone with French. Those in Japan can, at a push speak to someone with Japanese.

Whilst this is certainly true of the UK itself, it is to a diminishing extent. Eight years ago, the Labour Government abolished the need to take a second or third language as an area of study for A-Levels. Ever since, they have gone from 100% of students educated to that level having some semblance of a second language, to a take up of less than 18% for any European language. This is having a massive knock-on effect in terms of their jobs market, one that has been recognised by multi-national companies, and one that is likely to get worse before it gets better. This alone is a massive argument for the retention of Irish as a compulsory Leaving Certificate subject.

This does not however address the problems with the teaching and retention of the language in our secondary schools. One of the recommendations from those interested in the preservation of the language, coupled with the primary level idea floated above, is that we look at how the language is being taught. For too long, it has been viewed as a millstone, there to be hammered down the throats of dis-interested students, by dis-interested and barely qualified teachers. The proposal to address this is: Leave a form of Irish that is accessible to all, and taught as many other languages are, in an entertaining and engaging manner in the classroom. As long as a candidate, if parachuted into the Gaeltacht in the morning could conduct themselves in conversation with the locals, feed themselves, find their way around, and express their opinions in a debate / on an article they've just seen, then they may find that they enjoy the use of the language more. An 'advanced' level paper could then be undertaken by those interested (Almost like maths and applied maths), which deals more with the culture, poetry, literature and philosophy of the country and the language. It's a fairly cost-effective way of dealing with a lot of the issues presented, we feel. But being listened to, as I have previously mentioned, is a very different animal altogether.

I suppose I'm reminded of the original mantra of Conradh na Gaeilge from the late 19th century... 'Each man, according to his ability'. A bit of common sense, and applied knowledge could go a long way. Further probably than the vote-grabbing calculation of certain parties, with little or no understanding of the issues at heart.
 

James Healy

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On assuming Taoiseach's office, Cowen flaunted his bit of Irish, like Lemass republicanism,as being the hallmarks of his regime change, and of course the fawning sycophants in media ran with it. However his disastrous years as MOF came back to haunt him, and that will be his record. PH Pearse's quotation comes to mind " an chlann a dhíol a mháthair " - the family that sold out on it's mother.
 

diy01

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Conchubhair Mac Lochlainn,

A very sensible post. I hope you will stick around the forum.
 

eyelight

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Cowen's competence on a whole range of other issues such as finance and ethics, would be a lot more desirable than his competence with a dead language that most citizens of the state don't speak.
 


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