I was speaking on this subject when the debate was adjourned. As I pointed out, I was anxious that this matter would be considered as calmly as possible. I confess that at times I feel I was wasting my breath to a large extent, judging by the attitude adopted both by the Minister for Education and the Taoiseach. I feel that they are not alive to the situation, and it is because I was anxious that they might be induced to give some kind of consideration to the matter that I avoided anything in the nature of what might even appear to be strong language.
I cannot really believe, much as I should like to do so, that the attitude that has been adopted by the Minister for the last couple of years towards the suggestion of a calm and impartial inquiry into a number of things connected with the language holds out any promise either for the language or for the general level of education in this country. I cannot believe either that the statement to which we listened on the last occasion, especially the closing paragraphs of it, shows a realisation of a situation that to me at all events seems to be an increasingly dangerous one for the language.
I have confined myself up to the moment solely to the fate of the language. The Minister assumes that because a certain number of people in this country are very keen on the restoration of the language, therefore they must approve of the method that has been, with various degrees of intensity, enforced, say, in the last 15 years or more. The optimism displayed in the closing paragraph—it is a piece of rhetoric and perhaps I should not attach too much importance to it—of the Minister's statement seems to indicate to me that he is far removed from any grasp of the attitude of the people of the country towards the language. I think whereas a generation ago, or less even, there was a considerable amount of enthusiasm on the part of many people for the restoration of the language, that enthusiasm has now diminished.
That, in itself, need not be unhealthy if we had other efficient substitutes for that enthusiasm, if we had methods that we could be sure were carrying us towards our goal; but every evidence I come across from every walk in society and from every class of the community seems to me to spell danger to the language that was not there 20 years ago. There is no great enthusiasm amongst the great bulk of the people and there is a growing opposition, not perhaps very vocal, but one which I feel goes much deeper—to the particular method that we have tried. It is for that reason that I am urging strongly that if the Minister is both interested in the fate of the language— which I do not doubt—and can appreciate the danger, I would ask him once more to appoint a body to investigate a number of things in connection with it. First of all, that body would investigate what progress has been made; secondly, whether the methods that are being employed are those best suited to ensure progress.
I confess that I am completely in ignorance of the answer that could be given to these two questions. I doubt very much whether the advance made has been considerable in the last 20 years. I was always against a too premature inquiry into the results of the policy of teaching through Irish. You had to give the method adopted—in great hopes and in all good faith—a chance over a number of years; but I put it to the Minister, as it was put by those in closer touch, particularly with primary education, than I am, that the progress is disappointing and that the damage is considerable. I want that investigated. The mere piece of rhetoric at the end of the Minister's speech is no answer, so far as I am concerned, to that question. He speaks of the sacrifices that are necessary for the language. He himself uses phrases that I think are an exaggeration and go much farther than even the very determined—if if there are such people—enemies of the language would use. He is "waging a war against nature". Has the war been successful? That is what we want to know. Will he not investigate that?
There is a body of trained teachers who were certified by his Department to carry out this particular programme and a number of those teachers were questioned and their verdict on the whole was against the Minister's point of view. Is it safe to ignore that? Surely it is not. Is it not merely deliberately shutting your eyes to an unpleasant state of affairs in the hope that somehow or other that unpleasant state of affairs will vanish off the map? That is one reason why I ask for the investigation. I am asking for an inquiry into a policy that I myself sponsored and do so because of my interest in the language on the one hand, and in education on the other hand. I think the time has come for that inquiry. It seems to me that a great many people are becoming more and more conscious of the sacrifice and fail to see the advance. I do not say that there is no advance. In fact I am not in a position to judge it as the Minister will not provide the means to enable us to judge whether we are advancing or not in the direction in which the Minister wants us to advance—that is, to make Irish a real living language.
That is one of the reasons why I am anxious that this inquiry should take place without delay and that it should not be postponed until there may be a revolt not merely against the method but even against the aim which we have in view. That would be very serious. Luckily up to the present this question of the language has been kept out of party politics, practically altogether, but I fear the coming of the day when some person will make it an issue of party politics and I fear the support he might get would be considerable if the present policy of shutting our eyes to criticism continues, and might be fatal not to the method alone but to the language itself.
That is a brief summary of what I urged on the Minister on the last occasion and of what I urge on him once more. He is—or ought to be— perfectly aware of the difficulties. He is dependent on the schools for the success of making Irish a real living language. If for no other reason than that and apart altogether from the discourtesy involved, was it a wise thing simply to flout the considered opinion of the people on whose success in teaching the language he depends? I cannot see it. Full and cordial co-operation in all these matters between the Department—which is only in a position to order others—and those who do the real work, is necessary. I put it to the Minister that he has not taken the steps to get that co-operation. Would I be putting it too strongly if I said that he has gone out of his way to avoid getting that co-operation? I am not asking him to accept as a final word on the matter the conclusions arrived at by the committee set up by the Irish National Teachers' Organisation. It might be unreasonable to ask him to accept those conclusions but even if he does not accept them he ought to accept the claim that they have made an unanswerable case for an investigation— and an investigation by a committee that is anxious to restore the language but is not necessarily committed to any particular method of doing so.
It may be that the verdict of such a committee will be in favour of a continuance of the present method. We are sometimes almost forced to believe that the Minister does not think it would be in favour of this particular method. His refusal almost forces that view upon us.
The policy has now been in force for half a generation. It has been more and more stringently enforced as the years have gone on, and I would say, from what I can hear, that there is a more deeply-seated opposition to the method to-day than there was when it was first introduced. That and the extension of that feeling are among the things I fear.
Then there is the other extraordinary phrase used by the Minister in that paragraph of his, when he was soaring to the heights of eloquence, that not merely was he satisfied with making war on human nature, but war was to be made on the English language too. That is an entirely new policy for the Department. Is it a war of annihilation or what kind of a war is it? What does the Minister mean by that phrase? Does it mean anything in particular? Is it merely meant in a Pickwickian sense, or does he really mean it? Because if he means it he raises a very big question, now announced for the first time, that the aim is to abolish English as a living language in this country. Is that the aim of the Minister? If not, what does he mean by the phrase? I do not know whether the Minister wanted to go out of his way to give the people a shock in this matter—as if he had not given them enough already. I know the difficulties that face the revival of Irish. Why should the Minister, by a careless but calculated phrase of that kind, if it were a careless phrase, add tremendously to these difficulties? Is he putting it before the country that he wants to abolish the English language as a spoken language? I am not now referring to the cynicism that some people indulge in, that he is already pretty well near doing it. I do not believe that. Some people say that the level of the English language as spoken and written in this country has gone down. I do not know whether it has or not.
I hear conflicting reports as to that. As I have been hearing conflicting reports as to that for the last 30 years, I am a bit doubtful of the value to attribute to these reports on either side. But, again, it is a matter to be taken into account for we are concerned not merely with the fate of Irish, of which I have been speaking up to the present, but the general level of education in the country.
I said last night that when I took over the Department of Education and sponsored this particular method, one of the aims I had in view, apart from the preservation of the Irish language, was that I believed that if you could get a genuine second language you would quicken the minds and intellects of the people. Is that what is happening? I may have been unwise or unduly optimistic, but I did not contemplate the deliberate lowering of the standard of education. I heard recently from very high places of a policy of deliberate lowering of the standard of education; that if it is a question of teaching through Irish, whether that achieves its object or not, I have heard it enunciated that the standard must go. I should like to know is that the outlook of the present Minister? What is to be gained by it? I was, as I hinted a few moments ago, rather inclined to take with a considerable grain of salt many of the complaints that I heard about the deterioration of the standard. I heard similar complaints 15 years ago and they were then attributed to teaching through Irish, though how the introduction of teaching infants of the age of six through Irish could influence the standard of English of children then at the age of 14 I could not make out. I was, therefore, somewhat inclined not to attach too much importance to this. But, when I find in Government policy, and hear it enunciated, that the standard of education is a secondary matter, I feel much more uneasy about this complaint.
Let us make Irish a second language, but, for the sake of the language itself, apart from the general mentality and the education of the people of this country, let us not make it the badge of mediocrity at the very best—I do not say the badge of complete inefficiency; but it is sometimes almost coming to that. Is that the way to serve a language? I do not think it is. I still refuse to believe that the effort to restore Irish necessarily involves, or should even be accepted as involving, a deliberate acceptance of a lower general standard of education. Yet, I very much fear, so far as I can judge from certain things I have heard from high quarters, if I may use the expression, that that policy is being deliberately adopted.
I take all these things with considerable reservation, but there is one thing I hear now that certainly I did not hear a number of years ago. I am not blaming the Minister for this. I am trying to put a certain serious aspect of the case before him with a view to remedying it and with a view to saving the position of the language. You hear the charge made, and very often made by fluent Irish speakers, by men whose desire is to keep the language alive and to spread the language as a living language, whose desire cannot be questioned, that Irish has become—I use their phrase—a racket. Let us put things in their proper perspective. I do not think there is any movement, no matter how idealistic, no matter how noble, even almost sacred, in which that charge cannot be made against some of its followers. There is always that danger. It is inevitable, it is human nature; I am not blaming the Minister for this; but if you have a movement of this kind, if you deliberately, as is proper, take up a line that you will promote Irish by a certain policy of rewards and punishments, then there is the danger that a certain number of people will use the business as a racket. That applies, as I say, to a large number of other movements as well. It is certainly no charge against the Irish language, any more than it would be a charge against other great causes which are capable of being misused in the same way. But when you are offering large rewards to people, remember to be sure again that you are promoting the language.
I doubt if it is good policy on the part of the Government to make it clear that, so far as proficiency in any particular job goes, as between a first-class man and a man barely qualified, the first-class man is to be put behind the barely qualified man, merely because the latter has a knowledge of Irish. He might not ever use his Irish in the course of his job. It is merely a reward that is given to him not for proficiency in his subject, whatever it may be, but for proficiency in oral Irish. I doubt if it is fair to the language to put that burden, as well as any other burden, on the shoulders of the language. I warn the Minister particularly against the tendency to regard standard as of little importance —standard in Irish, as distinct from mere fluency, but particularly standards in other subjects. We have had a great deal of talk—I do not know whether the Minister's colleague, the Minister for Finance, referred to it in his Budget statement; I thought he did —about our having to depend on our training if we are to hold our position after the war. You are not going to maintain that position if you have a badly trained people.
What I feel, therefore, is: it is national policy to restore the language and it is wise to institute an inquiry into whether the methods you are using will achieve that end. It is also wise to see how far we have advanced —and here again I find it difficult to speak because I do not want to exaggerate. If I were to repeat the stories on one side or the other, I should feel I was indulging in exaggeration, and I want to avoid that. I will confess my inability to answer certain questions. We have before us the evidence of what seemed to me to be a genuine effort to reach the truth. There may or may not have been a little bias at the beginning, but certainly the National Teachers' Organisation put forward a case that should have been answered and should have led to an inquiry. I confess that I am not in the same position to speak about the secondary schools. I have no evidence whether, genuinely, the heads of secondary schools consider the policy of teaching through Irish educationally beneficial or otherwise, for they have not spoken out.
I do not think you are benefiting the language; I think you are putting the language in danger of its life by the attitude you are adopting of refusing an inquiry. These are matters which, I think, any Government ought to be quite willing and quite ready, if it was not afraid of the result, to inquire into. I do not know why the Minister should be afraid of the result. I do not want him to put on that inquiry people who are not keen on making Irish a living language. I want him to put on that inquiry people who are not fanatics for or against any particular method.
These are some of the matters I wanted to put before the Minister on this all-important question. For many years, as I pointed out to the Minister, I refrained from discussing the general policy of the Department because I thought the experiment—let me call it that; it is a neutral word—should get a reasonable trial. Two years ago, I came to the conclusion that sufficient time had elapsed to enable the Government, the Minister and the country to take stock and consequently I suggested two years ago—and I thought the Taoiseach who was present had adopted the suggestion—that an inquiry should be instituted, but—I say this without any desire to introduce a controversial note—like many of the reasonable things the Taoiseach seems to adopt, he seems always to argue himself out of them. Apparently his arguments have had effect in this respect. I fear that the language may have to pay for it.
There was another matter which I said I would raise, and I want to confine myself to those which I mentioned. There might be a number of things in the Minister's statement which might merit attention. I sometimes wonder whether one or two phrases which he uses were careless and whether people whose business it is more than mine to refer to these things will notice them. Probably not but I do not intend to deal with them. These were matters possibly involving great questions of policy, but I do not propose to go into them now. The other matter to which I want to refer is the question of the compulsory examination. I have heard complaints, and by no other person have I heard the complaint more eloquently put than by the Taoiseach, about the driving of children. Of course, one might think he spoke feelingly on the matter, obviously meaning to dissent. There was a general belief abroad— probably quite unfounded—that this particular child is the Taoiseach's own child—this compulsion in connection with the examination.
There is a lot to be said for and against it on general principles. A number of people think that its advantages are out-weighed by its disadvantages, that if, for a variety of reasons, the brains of the children of this country are being sorely tried and tested at present, to put a written examination before them is an additional strain and a strain that may not be worth the price. That is on the general question. It is a matter in respect of which I should have liked to have seen the case for and against, but there was no opportunity of doing so. As I understand it, although the matter had been under discussion between the Department and the Irish National Teachers' Organisation for some time, the public were given no opportunity of examining the case for or against. Incidentally the public are supposed to be interested in educational matters; that is one of the suppositions we labour under. Parents are supposed to be particularly anxious about the education of their children and supposed to be wrath at the damage done, for instance, by the teaching of their children through Irish. I have never seen them taking effective steps to deal with that particular matter. I often hear that the parents of a countryside, any particular countryside, are up in arms against the system. Yet, if their conscience, and as parents they ought to have a conscience, is so troubled in this matter, they have never questioned the right of the State in that way to maltreat their children, as they hold the State is doing. I would like that the public would get some chance to think over the merits or the demerits of making this leaving certificate compulsory, to see as I see it as a member of the public what is being done. Sometime after the opening of this year the Minister announced that on 1st of June there is to be a compulsory examination of all children in the sixth standard who have put in one hundred days. That announcement is made as a definite decision. There were hints of it, of negotiations and failure to reach agreement, I understand, before that. But to announce, after the opening of the new year, that in the following June this examination is to take place, seems to me eminently unreasonable.
I have heard these complaints from teachers whom I know and who are personal friends of mine—not necessarily political backers—men whose character and ability as teachers I estimate highly, and they are gravely perturbed at the idea and particularly the way in which the Minister has chosen to put it before the country, to spring it on the country. See the year he has chosen—a year in which he has drawn attention to the lack of kerosene and, therefore, to the lack of light in the case of a number of the children, who, therefore, teachers are told should be relieved of homework. He has chosen a year in which he has drawn attention to the shortage of paper to be used in schools; he has chosen a year in which there is a drive in the agricultural line and in which the district justices, I understand, will fine a farmer 1/- for keeping a child at home from school. The farmer may be shortsighted but the child's work is more than 1/-.
He has, at a time when the promotion in the schools has practically become automatic, insisted that all children who have an attendance of 50 per cent. must present themselves for examination. How is he going to ensure it? Perhaps he will tell us when he comes to reply. I am quoting the Minister's own words: "All children must attend the examination." Suppose they do not, what is to happen? I know the Minister can say "must, or be brought before the magistrates". They will impose another fine, perhaps, and if the children are numerous perhaps the farmer will not be fined at all. He wants to start this system. Leaving aside the general merits of making the leaving certificate compulsory—I am not debating the merits of the suggestion—I would like that more attention should be given to it, not merely by the Minister but by those interested in education, whether it is a good thing or not. But as to the way in which the Minister has chosen to introduce it, all I can say about that way is this: that if he wanted to ensure its failure, if he wanted to give it a really bad start, he could not have acted otherwise than he has acted. He has a pious—I wonder why these things are called pious?—wish expressed in the course of his statement that the teachers will co-operate. He has taken steps to make their co-operation almost impossible. That is what I do not understand about the Minister.
I do not understand him either in the way he treated the report on teaching through Irish; and remember, the success of Irish in the schools in the last resort will depend on the goodwill of the teachers. It is not he who is going to do it; it is the teachers in the different schools who are going to make it a success or a failure, and to treat a body like that with contempt is extremely unwise. He is doing the same thing when he glibly asks for co-operation and chooses a year like this to force this particular experiment of compulsory examination on every pupil in the sixth standard who has gone through 100 days, roughly 50 per cent. of the attendance —I forget the exact number of compulsory days there would be—at a time when he himself has knocked that down by ten days owing to the necessity of agricultural work, at a time when farmers, wrongly, perhaps, but owing to the shortage of labour, are keeping children at home to do agricultural work. That is the year he chooses, at a time when promotion is automatic. He may say that this will not influence the rating of the teacher. Of course it will. The inspectors of his Department may be almost supermen, but to suggest that the result of the examination will not influence them in the rating of a teacher is ridiculous. They would be more than supermen, they would be angels—and, mind you, I never heard that of them. There is again the same ignoring of competent opinion. I do not ask the Minister to surrender his views, but he should take some account of the views of others. These are the two matters on which I was particularly anxious to address the House and to put my views before the Minister. For the sake of the Irish language, the quicker he investigates the results and the capabilities of the methods we are using now, the better.