Students call for stronger Irish language rights

James Wilson

Staff Writer

Members of Trinity’s Cumann Gaelach society joined Irish speakers from across Dublin today at a protest outside Leinster House over the issue of Irish language rights. The demonstration, which was jointly organised by the Union of Students in Ireland (USI) and the  Irish language pressure group, Conradh na Gaeilge, took place in the wake of the controversial resignation of An Coimisinéir Teanga (The Language Commissioner), Seán Ó Cuirreáin, last week.

Speaking at the event, Feidhlim Seoige, USI vice president for the Irish language, called the current administration “the worst Government [with regards to the] promotion of the Irish language since the beginning of the state”. It was a sentiment echoed by the President of Conradh na Gaeilge, Donnchadha Ó hAodha, who insisted that “the government has made bad decision after bad decision in relation to the Irish language since taking office.” “The language commissioner is the person you go to if you have a complaint about the Irish language and without him we’ve nowhere else to go,” Niamh Ní Chróinín, auditor of Trinity’s Cumann Gaelach, the country’s largest third-level Irish language society, said.

The students, numbering some forty overall, along with numerous individuals from USI and Conradh na Gaeilge, stood outside Leinster House wearing Santa Claus hats and red USI t-shirts emblazoned with slogans such as “Níl Uaim Ach Mo Theanga Féin a Labhairt” (“All I Want is to Speak my Own Language”), “Christmas Wishlist: Language Rights” and “Cearta Teanga = Cearta Daonna” (“Language Rights = Human Rights”). Many wore  red tape in the shape of an ‘x’ over their mouths as a metaphor for what they see as the government’s continued failure to provide public services through Irish and, to the tune of “We Wish You A Merry Christmas”, chanted “Tabhair dúinn ár gcearta teanga agus beimid sásta” (“Give us our language rights and we’ll be happy”). At one point, certain individuals even began to compare the Taoiseach’s behaviour to Miley Cyrus, singing “Tháinig Enda isteach ar nós wrecking ball” (Enda came in like a wrecking ball).

Mr Ó Cuirreáin stepped down from his position last week over the alleged marginalisation of Irish within the public sector and the government’s record on Irish language issues. In his role as An Coimisinéir Teanga, he was charged with enforcing the Official Languages Act 2003, which mandates that the public should be able to use Irish in their dealings with public sector bodies should they choose to do so. However, in a final appearance before the Joint Committee on Public Service Oversight and Petitions this month, he stated that he believed it would not be long before, in practise and in law, citizens would be made to use English when dealing with the state. He added that “requiring the people of the Gaeltacht to conduct their business in English with state agencies flies in the face of any policy which suggests that the survival of the Gaeltacht is on the state’s agenda.”