That leave be granted to introduce a Bill entitled an Act to amend the Road Traffic Act 1961 to provide for dual language road signs and related matters.
In many ways, the Irish Government sees the Irish language as an ornamental addition to brand Ireland. It is the cúpla focal here and there to pepper speeches, photographs to be posed for and a language for a few hours in class every week.
The truth, however, is that the Irish language is a wonderfully rich cultural gift and an irreplaceable part of the diversity of this planet. It is a unique infrastructure of thought and a magic door to an Aladdin's cave of cultural jewels that stretches back hundreds of years. It has been the voice of Irish people for thousands of years.
Shockingly, this generation may well be the last in which Irish is spoken in the Gaeltacht as a community language, according to the figures currently circulating in the census data. To give a picture of how serious the collapse of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht is, the census shows an annual drop of 11% in daily speakers of the language. Only 500 children between the ages of three and four speak Irish as a daily language in the Gaeltacht. That is a shocking figure.
The language is hanging on by a thread. It is incredible how the State treats the language. The majority of Gaeltacht children who want to attend preschool must do so in English. Up to 94% of principals in Irish language medium schools, Gaelscoileanna, find it difficult to employ additional teachers with fluent Irish. A company in Donegal in receipt of funds from Údarás na Gaeltachta, recently told its workers only to speak English. It is an unbelievably strange system where we provide funds to Údarás na Gaeltachta to create jobs in the Gaeltacht for Irish language speakers, only for those companies to tell their workers to speak English only.
We had an incredible situation recently where a Chinese couple, out of respect for the culture and heritage of this country, sought to apply for Irish citizenship in the Irish language but were told to get stuffed. They were told that they could not do it and had to apply in English. Across the country, we have numerous other examples of Departments, county councils and other elements of the State, when interacting with Irish speakers, forcing them to speak English. I hear regularly of compulsory Irish in the education system. The truth of the matter is that, for most people who speak Irish every day and for most people in the Gaeltacht, it is compulsory English with which they must deal. That is hardly ever mentioned in the media or political circles.
This is a simple Bill based on the understanding that we need to give prominence and respect, as well as pride of place, to our language. Towns and their distances from certain locations on road signs are indicated in both languages. The English language, however, is by far the most prominent. Accordingly, it is the English name to which the identity falls and stays in a person's mind. The Bill simply seeks to give parity to both fonts on a road sign, like a proposal suggested by Conradh na Gaeilge to the Government. The Bill does not seek to change all the road signs as it would lead to major costs and difficulties for the State. Instead, it seeks the changes as road signs are replaced.
I raised this issue with the then Minister for Transport, Tourism, and Sport in 2014, Deputy Varadkar. He initiated a pilot project but, unfortunately, it was soon dropped. Tá mise ag iarraidh ar an Aire anois go ndéanfaidh sé rud tábhachtach don teanga; go gcabhróidh sé le muintir na Gaeltachta agus na Gaeilgeoirí thar timpeall na tíre stop a chur le meath na teanga thar timpeall na tíre; go dtabharfaidh sé comhionannas don dá theanga ar chomharthaí bóithre thar timpeall na tíre; agus ná lig sé bliana dul thart arís mar gheall ar an smaoineamh seo. Cabhraigh liomsa an Bille seo a chur tríd an Dáil chomh luath agus is féidir, go gcuirfimid an rud seo i bhfeidhm chun go mbeimid in ann cabhrú leis an nGaeilge agus leis an nGaeltacht.