Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Respecting Irish-speakers

Not answering the question asked is of course one of the most reliable, if clunky, instruments in the tool-box of any politician worth his or her salt. Luckily for the voters, our broadcast media have among their kenspeckle faces a few focussed and above all tenacious individuals who simply refuse to be brushed off. Some of the instances where this has happened have become part of broadcasting legend. Who could forget, for example, the occasion, now almost 20 years ago, when Jeremy Paxman asked former Home Secretary Michael Howard the same question a dozen times?

It is therefore all the more disappointing to read this:
"Almost 40 Irish language speakers have taken part in a protest outside the BBC's Broadcasting House on Ormeau Avenue, Belfast.
A spokesperson said he had not been allowed to ask questions about Irish language issues during the BBC's election debates. 
A petition was handed to the reception. 
In response, the BBC said it produces multi-platform Irish language content."
Hm, see the similarity? The issue raised clearly referred to the attitude to the Irish language displayed by current-affairs staff rather than the fact that the BBC produces a few shows as Gaeilge (not a channel, of course, like the Scots get). The original question referred to the DUP's manifesto plans to stop "squandering money" on Irish-language schools. As such, it was a clear and pressing concern for the Irish-language community — a "current affair" if ever there was one (and hardly the sort of thing deserving of being dismissed with a dose of non sequitur bluster).

One explanation is that the BBC was trying to avoid contentious themes in what was widely seen as a rather dull election (as well as one in which a whole swathe of bored Nationalist voters once again failed to turn up). If true, that would be shameful.

The alternative, just as likely, explanation is that the BBC was taking a rather ill-informed decision about what is relevant or interesting to voters, one very likely based on an ignorant conception of how many pupils attend Irish-language schools. As Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta puts it:
"There are over 700 children expected to enter Primary 1 in September 2016 – the highest number ever within the IME sector. Last year, 647 children began their primary education through Irish and the trend continues with Primary 1 enrolments up from 447 children in 2011 – a growth of 57% in the IME primary schools alone!"
"The growth in the Irish-medium Education sector is clear for all to see with a 45% increase in enrolments over a five-year period. September 2016 will see over 5800 children be educated daily through the medium of Irish and those numbers will continue to rise with nearly 90 IME providers across Nursery, Primary and Secondary levels."
Irish is, owing to its exclusion from public life through laws affecting sectors as various as the courts and road signage, for many people an invisible language. Far from being the Catholic equivalent of ragged flags on lamp-posts, a neutral observer would have to conclude that it is the very opposite: omnipresent yet assiduously brushed under the carpet. Small wonder, then, that one part of the BBC can assume that it has no relevance to political debate.

Given the growing numbers of fluent speakers being produced by Gaelscoileanna and elsewhere, that state of affairs can hardly continue for much longer.

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