COMPENDIUM CULTURAL POLICIES AND TRENDS IN EUROPE
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Ireland/ 4.2 Specific policy issues and recent debates  

4.2.5 Language issues and policies

Irish is the first official language of the country (English is also an official language). Almost 1.7 million people or 40.6% of the population (Census 2011) claim knowledge of the Irish language, while over 77 000 claim to speak it on a daily basis – outside the education system. The overall number of people who have a knowledge of Irish represents a 7.1% increase over that in the 2006 census. The state recognises the special status of the Irish language and implements a number of measures intended to foster and protect it. The Official Languages Act 2003 seeks to ensure better availability and a higher standard of public services through Irish. Its provisions apply to cultural as to all other public bodies. A twenty year strategy for the Irish language was published in December 2010 (http://www.ahg.gov.ie/en/20YearStrategyfortheIrishLanguage/). The decline in the use of Irish in Gaeltacht areas has been an ongoing issue and there have been protests about the impact of austerity in the form of spending cuts from government departments on Irish language policy. A Gaeltacht Bill was introduced in July 2012, redefining Gaeltacht or Irish language-speaking areas.

The legislative mandate of the national public service broadcaster (RTE) provides that RTE's programming shall reflect the cultural diversity of the whole island of Ireland and shall cater for the expectations of the community generally as well as for members of the community with special or minority interests.

In terms of the dissemination of the Irish language, a number of agencies play a role. An Foras Teanga, set up under the Belfast Agreement, provides funding and support for a range of Irish languages and services. Údarás na Gaeltachta provides funding and support for various projects and initiatives within the Gaeltacht, especially projects that encompass language preservation. A partnership with the Arts Council since 1997 has enabled the appointment of arts facilitators in each Gaeltacht region. Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge or the Irish Language Books Board provides production grants to publishers, while Ireland Literature Exchange (funded by the two Arts Councils on the island, the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Bord na Leabhar Gaeilge) offers translation grants to publishers. The Arts Council also provides some direct funding to literary publishers to allow for the translation of foreign works into Irish or English. Successive governments have taken steps to support the development of the Irish language in the media including the establishment of Irish language TV and radio stations like TG4 (established in 1996) and Radio na Gaeltachta, as well as contributions to Irish language newspapers.

The Irish record in respect of foreign language learning is lamentable and shows no sign of improvement. The Royal Irish Academy (http://www.ria.ie/our-work/committees/committees-for-the-humanities-and-social-sciences/modern-languages/policy.aspx) in 2006 outlined the absence of any coherent language strategy, pointing out that Ireland is the only country in Europe, except Scotland, where a foreign language is not compulsory at any stage in the main education curriculum. Ireland has the highest proportion of citizens in the EU who say that they do not know any language other than their native tongue. Only 8% of Irish secondary school students learn two or more foreign languages compared with a European average of 60%. The lack of language skills is by now routinely adduced as an employment inhibitor in a country with 25% youth unemployment.


Chapter published: 10-06-2015

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