Ba mhaith liom cuidiú leis an rún seo. Is fearr beart ná focal, agus tá orainn, mar bhaill den Oireachtas, an cheist seo a phlé agus í a chur os cóir an phobail. Ní aontáim in aon chor leis an Seanadór McQuillan gur ceart dúinn dearmad a dheanamh ar an Pháipéar Bán. Aon Ghaeilge atá agamsa is ar scoil a d'fhoghlamaíos í agus muna bhfuil líofacht cheart chainte agam sé is ciontach leis ná an méid scríbhneoireachta agus staidéir scríofa a bhí le déanamh agam agus mé ar scoil. Is i lámha an aosa óg atá an teanga anois.
I welcome this opportunity, in common with the other Members, to review dispassionately and objectively the position of the Irish language now that we have the recommendations of the commission before us. At the outset, I should like to say that Senator McQuillan's attitude to the question is one that can be largely ignored because in his opening remarks he admitted he was prejudiced against the language. He went even further and said he would never speak the language. We who may not be fluent in the language but who at least have the interest of the language at heart are perfectly entitled to ignore the violent prejudices of people like Senator McQuillan.
Before going on to what I hope will be a reasonably short and constructive analysis of some of the points at issue, I think it is a pity that the Irish language should be subjected to abuse on every occasion an important measure comes before the House. Senator McQuillan dragged in every aspect of our economic and social ills and appeared to lay the blame on our policy towards the Irish language. He associated it with what he described as the hypocrisy of the Government on this matter. While we cannot very well isolate or divorce the language from the lives and environments of any of us, we must agree at the same time that it has to be reviewed largely in its own context.
I welcome largely what I would regard as the reasonably critical and positive tone of the recommendations of the commission. I am rather agreeably surprised at some of the recommendations, particularly in relation to the shedding of the privileges which have hitherto been associated with what has been called here the fanatical section of Irish speakers. I feel, in showing willingness at least to rid the Irish language of the element of compulsion, that the commission has given us an earnest of their sincerity in the matter.
I propose to review briefly some of the blind prejudices, and, I think, the elements of compulsion that attach to the language, elements that have certainly antagonised a large proportion of the Irish people and, I think, justifiably so. First of all, my experience of the language—I suppose we must confine ourselves to our own experience—has been gained largely from the educational system. Anybody who, like myself, has had that experience must regret that there has most times been a bias towards the written language and, if I might say so, not the written language as a living tongue but as an exercise for teacher correction. This applies not only in the spheres of grammar and poetry but also in the sphere of composition. I feel if we were honest enough to admit it, in relation to the curriculum in the Irish secondary schools, the attitude of the Department of Education has largely been that of a Department towards a foreign language.
I can recall quite clearly that we were encouraged—I have no reason to doubt that students nowadays are not so encouraged—to introduce into our Irish composition sean-fhocail and corraí-chainte. These latter were idioms. The employment of such expressions apparently earned extra marks for Irish composition in the intermediate and leaving certificate examinations. We must be honest with ourselves and admit that in any other language these would be called what they actually are, clichés, habits of speech, which, in fact, reflect no intelligent approach on the part of those who use them but which might have been suitable as happy expressions for a particular occasion. That was the standard in my time. It was an attitude towards the expression of Irish. Most young men in the schools nowadays are mature and will not accept that kind of nonsense.
This comes very close to home for me because a very close associate of mine won a gold medal for Irish composition in the leaving certificate. I know from a review of his composition that he had a happy facility for using these corraí-chainte and sean-fhocail in the right place. He did not overdo it and he appreciated what they meant. He had no understanding or appreciation of the idiom of the language itself. This was proved by the fact that some months after leaving school, after already winning the school medal for first place in Irish, he took no further interest because no enthusiasm had been aroused in him for the language. I might appear to have dwelt rather long on this aspect of the matter but we must always look at the facts and ensure that in our educational curriculum the language is taught as a living tongue and not used merely for examination purposes which has been the case up to now.
Secondly, I welcome the recommendations of the commission because they rather surprisingly reveal that the attitude up to now has been one of entrenching old attitudes towards the language. I am not like Senator McQuillan with regard to this. I also honestly felt a strong prejudice against those people who feel it is only their prerogative to speak the language. They gave no encouragement to those of my generation who might not have had close association with the language by reason of their environment. Unlike Senator McQuillan, I do not condemn the language because I happen to find those people may be a little too enthusiastic and possibly sometimes blindly so for me.
The Government, in paragraph 16, now realise that the study of Irish as a living language can be supplemented in conjunction with modern continental languages about which we hear so much nowadays. I think, at this stage, I might air a notion I have myself. I wonder what justification there may be for it but from my own limited experience there may be some. Even though there may be a small percentage of the people in this country who are bilingual, I am quite satisfied that a higher percentage of those people speak a third language, namely, a continental language, that is they are multilinguistic. It is quite easy to sit there and say: "Let us have just one language". This is an attitude common not only in Ireland but also throughout Europe. People forget that language is a vehicle of expression, that we express ourselves differently and for that reason restrictions cannot be imposed on the development of any language.
Bilinguists have the experience of expressing themselves in a second medium. I can definitely say that is a very decided advantage when it comes to acquiring fluency in a third language. You have broken down barriers against expression in a second medium. This is something English people readily admit. The study of Irish could help to supplement the study of continental languages which, of course, must be advocated. I feel this would be a more realistic approach to the matter. The commission have, for the first time, shown a certain realism in connection with this particular project.
Before I leave that matter, I think people have mentioned Switzerland during the course of the debate, though possibly not in this context. As we all know, Switzerland is a multilingual society. I may have referred to this on another occasion also, but, in relation to young children, I can say from my own experience that to acquire a second, third or fourth language presents no real difficulty, provided they are given the appropriate environment in which to do so. If the young Swiss, or indeed the young American or the young English pupils who are educated in Switzerland, have fluency by the time they are 15 or 16, it is because they are allowed to develop their fluency in an environment natural to young people, on playing fields, in the diningroom, as they go into shops, villages, and so on, and there is no element whatever of privilege or compulsion attached to it. It is a very spontaneous thing and I feel that this is what it must be in the young children of Ireland: it must be spontaneous.
If we may differ in some respects, I feel that the Irish Christian Brothers deserve great commendation from us in that, though they may sometimes appear to be over-enthusiastic to some of their pupils, they do give them an opportunity and encourage them to enjoy themselves, if one might put it so, through the medium of Irish. I am quite confident that they enjoy themselves quite spontaneously through the medium of Irish. Quite recently, I have heard them in the Phoenix Park as well as in other places and I do not see that it imposes any restriction. I feel that, at least nowadays, men who happen to be gifted with fluency in Irish have come from some such cradle where they have had an opportunity of speaking Irish in a reasonable environment for a young man.
There have been and are still many occasions on which the language is being brought into disrepute by being used as a restriction on various examinations—entrance to universities, leaving certificate, and so on, and there is one particular recommendation here, No. 43, in connection with the courts of justice, which draws attention to that point. I think it is to the effect that the standard of the qualifying examination in Irish for barristers should be raised and that foreign students who do not intend to practise permanently in Irish courts should be exempt. I must agree with that recommendation in so far as the second part of it, particularly, goes— that foreign students who do not intend to practise in Ireland should be exempt. I have seen the comedy—and comedy it is and nothing else—of foreign students, Africans, Nigerians, Ghanaians and other foreign students, being subjected to a so-called examination in Irish when, in fact, what was merely involved was the paying of a fee: there was an examination, I must say, in fairness, but the foreign candidate knew, before he went in, that he would not fail it. He was asked certain questions and assisted in the answers.
Let us face the fact that it would be absolutely unfair to impose such a restriction on a foreign student as to have to study the Irish language. The only foreign student, to my knowledge, who ever did fail the examination in Irish was a man the initial of whose surname was the letter "O". It was unfortunate for him that the examiner or somebody else must have thought that the first letter of his surname, O, was the Irish "O" rather than having some association with an African name. Irish people have failed their examination in the Irish language for entrance to some professional bodies but foreigners never. What, then, is the point of retaining this examination? It brings it into disrepute not only among ourselves but among those people from other countries who come here to study. Therefore, I heartily commend this recommendation by the commission.
Now I come to consider what can be done, to a certain extent—and this is a very brief consideration on my part—to foster and arouse the interest of young people and, after all, it is the young people who will continue to ensure the survival and indeed the furtherance of Irish. I think the first thing is that we must have teachers properly qualified and properly informed and devoted to their subject. To this extent, I think this House will agree with me as, significantly, the major problem in "compulsory Irish", as it is called, arises chiefly in and around the city of Dublin.
I often feel that one of the reasons for this is that a substantial number of students in and around the city of Dublin have not had the benefit of education in the ordinary national school; that many of them attend a private school or a school where a teacher may (a) have little or no knowledge of the Irish language or (b) what is even worse, have a strong antagonism towards the Irish language and he may be justified in his antagonism, for that matter. Any teacher who is forced to teach a subject, which is what is involved in this case, which he himself actively dislikes, will certainly not pass on any enthusiasm for or love of that subject to his pupils. So far as any of us has a love of and enthusiasm for our language, we must all admit that a lot of this stems from an enthusiasm for and a loyalty we had to those who, we felt, had that fervour and indeed interest in their language. They could arouse the imagination of young people. They could introduce them to various aspects of Irish literature and history most conducive towards a further interest in the language. This, I feel, is the kernel of the problem here in the city, particularly. If they are really serious about their attitude towards the language, I feel that teachers who find themselves in private schools and otherwise should endeavour—and endeavour probably it must be for them, maybe more difficult than for those of us who have had reasonable tuition—(1) to make themselves sufficiently informed about the language they teach and (2) to make themselves fluent if at all possible because it is not all that difficult in the language they are teaching and (3) above all, should try to arouse not antagonism but a certain enthusiasm and a certain love—and I say that without any apologies to anybody— for the language they teach because while the language may not be the only mark, it certainly is a very important factor and the man to tell you this is the multilingual Frenchman or German, as the case may be. I do not see why we ourselves should have the attitude towards it that we feel we are being insular when we come to encouraging study or indeed a love for the Irish language.
Senator FitzGerald did review, as is his custom, in a reasonably detailed fashion what he regarded as their policy towards the language but I am afraid he did not offer any hope to those of us who would like to be a little more than 50-50 sure that the language might survive the research and social study he has talked about. The enthusiasts themselves, in their own everyday language, have preserved the tongue which might long since have been lost. I am not sure that they are not as entitled to the representation on the commission which they have, in fact, got, and much more so, as those of us who are either too apathetic about or opposed to the language. I feel, at the same time, that they should be in a position to judge and to have regard to the views of others who may not have the same active interest. By and large, they are from amongst ourselves and I do not see why we should regard them as a race apart. There are certain people enthusiastic about the language. There are many of us who are not. I suppose I belong to the many in so far as I do not take positive steps to increase my fluency and to promulgate the spirit of the language.
For that reason I do not think that a research such as Senator Fitzgerald suggests can provide all the answers. It might be the answer to other problems but surely not to the language problem. The language is bound up in a very real way with our whole mental attitude. Any student of languages when listening to an Irishman speak will notice immediately the difference of idiom, the difference of expression which the Irishman has as distinct from his counterpart in England. If we can use ten words where one would suffice, we use the ten words. This is characteristic of the Irish. The attitude must be one of strong sympathy and this can be tempered with a keen analysis. That is what I hope the Government will do with these recommendations that are before us today.
I have a note here about pubs and playing fields as a heading for myself. It occurs to me that many of us have the impression, myself included, that it is very hard to enjoy yourself through the medium of Irish, that it is very hard to relax through the medium of Irish because we always associate it with those whose only interest is in drumming Irish into us. This attitude is not wholly our fault. Those who are most enthusiastic about the language and who have an opportunity of promulgating it should examine their consciences and inquire whether they parade this aspect of their national fervour just a little too much for the general public.
I should like to think that I could enjoy myself either in a pub or on the playing field just as readily and as spontaneously through Irish as I could through English. I will go further: if I cannot enjoy myself as spontaneously through Irish, then I have no intention of speaking it. Nobody can be expected to restrict or inhibit his normal life or enjoyment because certain attitudes towards the Irish language are being pushed at him, and I hope this occasion does not arise. The language should be brought outside the desks of the Civil Service and outside the schoolhouse and those who are enthusiastic—and rather strangely, many of them are teachers—should realise that many of us who are not teachers are interested and they should approach the language in a more casual way. I am not saying there is an entrenched approach, but in so far as prejudice has been aroused in many minds, there must be a certain justification for it.
I am happy to see that the commission has made a recommendation on a matter on which I have always felt something should be done. Senator Stanford referred to this last night in his very worthy assessment of the situation, that we cannot sacrifice efficiency or professionalism at any level in the name of the language, and it is not fair to the language that this should be so. In one of the recommendations dealing with vocational education, it is suggested, and has been accepted by the Government, that where a teacher qualifies in Irish only by virtue of having the Teastas Timire Gaeilge, such a teacher, not being a graduate of a university, will be required to do a two-year preliminary course. What this course is is not indicated but I have always thought it one of the scandals of our educational system, and particularly of our vocational education system, that there are headmasters—and I say this without any personal vindictiveness towards the gentlemen themselves— who have no other qualification but that they spend one month possibly in the Connemara Gaeltacht and having been fluent in Irish before they went there, had little difficulty in obtaining their Teastas Timire Gaeilge.
Some of those got jobs as trained teachers in the technical schools and some of them went further and became principals in the various schools. Although they have no training in subjects like Irish, English, mathematics, woodwork, metalwork, and so on, they would direct the teachers of these subjects as to how best they should be taught. I am happy to say the commission have now recommended that such a scandal in our educational system should not be allowed to continue.
I am further happy to see that the Government have refused to agree to or certainly have shown no enthusiasm for this roll of honour which is one of the recommendations of the commission and which would apply to the teachers in Irish-speaking national schools who have proved themselves fluent in Irish over a period of years. How any mature man would recognise himself as being entitled to be on a roll of honour by virtue of the fact that he spoke Irish is something I cannot comprehend. How any body such as this commission could make such a recommendation surprises me more than a little. If it were implemented, it would be another one of those influences that would antagonise many people. That trend of things must not be allowed to continue.
There is not much more I can say except to repeat that any language, if it is to survive, must be treated as a living language. The hope lies particularly in the Gaeltacht. New opportunities whereby young people would be allowed to live and work in the Gaeltacht would be rather difficult to realise, but at least they could spend a holiday period in the Gaeltacht areas because here and only here, apart from some isolated homes, is the language a living vehicle of expression. I might say in this context that we should not go too far in our standardising of language. Language is a medium of expression which will differ with each person who uses it. Divisions and dialects have occurred purely because of the attitudes and the habits of life of people who use the same language. If we have various dialects in the Irish language, we are not alone in this problem. In fact a matter which is very much overlooked is that in Italy, for instance, Italians will tell you that the only part of Italy where pure Italian is spoken is in the neighbourhood of Siena or possibly Florence and every other part speaks dialects, though, granted, most educated Italians, in fact almost all of them, can speak what is called pure Italian.
The same thing applies to France, and we have Swiss French, Belgian French and other French spoken in various places. It also applies to German and all the other European languages. Indeed, we appear to have less dialect than most countries. We have simply two dialects recognised— the Munster dialect and what is called the Connacht and Ulster dialects. May be I am simplifying things too much there but I believe that there are two main dialects. For that reason I do not think we should be over-perturbed about standardising Irish because when you endeavour to standardise a language usage—and this is what we hope for—will de-standardise it just as quickly. If it is not used it will stay standardised and in fact morbid and as little used as it has been in recent times.
I hope that the Government will give full study to the Commission's report and that the problem will be tackled not as an academic one and that certainly as a result of it Irish may be more widely spoken and more widely loved.