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Seanad Éireann debate -
Thursday, 3 Mar 2022

Vol. 283 No. 6

Address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Linda Ervine to mark Seachtain na Gaeilge

Dia dhaoibh, a chairde. I welcome our distinguished visitors to the Gallery and welcome back former Senator Labhrás Ó Murchú. For the benefit of those who are Cultural and Educational Panel, he informs me he will be running in the next election. Just be warned.

I thank colleagues for taking time out of their day to be present for the address to Seanad Éireann by Ms Linda Ervine to mark Seachtain na Gaeilge in accordance with the order of Seanad Éireann on 24 February. Proceedings are not to exceed one hour. I will have opening remarks, Ms Linda Ervine will address us for 15 minutes, contributions by spokesperson will not to exceed four minutes, the Leas-Chathaoirleach will not exceed three minutes and Linda Ervine MBE will conclude. We will have a "thank you" from the Leader as well.

I ask Linda Ervine MBE to come to the Seanad Chamber for her first time. She may come back in another capacity. I am sure, with Labhrás Ó Murchú's assistance, she could end up in the cultural and educational panel yet. Más é bhur dtoil é, tabhair bualadh bos do Linda Ervine.

Cuirim fáilte roimh Linda Ervine MBE chuig Seanad Éireann. An bhliain seo caite, bhronn an Bhanríon Eilís MBE uirthi as an obair a rinne sí in Oirthear Bhéal Feirste - I am getting East Belfast and West Belfast mixed up.

Ms Linda Ervine


Do not make that mistake, a Chathaoirligh.

Nuair a cuireadh an cheist ar Linda cé a thabharfadh sí go dinnéar dá mbeadh rogha aici dúirt sí go dtabharfadh sí Nelson Mandela, Íosa, agus Princess Diana. Theastaigh uaithi cuireadh a thabhairt do Diana chun a taobh féin dá scéal a chloisteáil. Linda would invite Princess Diana to listen to her story. Lorgódh sí Nelson Mandela mar tugann a smaointe ar an maithiúnas - forgiveness - inspioráid di. Dúirt sí go ndúirt sé "if you don’t forgive, you are still in prison".

Sa lá atá inniu she runs the Irish language project Turas in East Belfast. Cuireann sí ranganna ar fáil do gach leibhéal - ó bhonnleibhéal go hardleibhéal. She has almost single-handedly untapped and awoken a little-talked-about interest among the Protestant community to learn Gaelic. Dúirt sí:

My aim is to connect people from Protestant communities to their own history with the Irish language. And to make them understand that learning or speaking Irish is certainly no threat to British identity … Its origins show that it was historically spoken by huge numbers of Protestants across Ulster and in Scotland.

Is maith an t-ainm atá ar an project "Turas". Tá sé ráite ag Linda “for me it is not only a journey into a language but also a journey of healing and reconciliation”. Tá Seanad Éireann buíoch as an turas iontach saoil atá déanta aici. Seanad Éireann is proud of her journey and life she has led that brought her here. Cuirimid fáilte roimpi go Seanad Éireann. Seanad Éireann welcomes her here for Seachtain na Gaeilge.

I present Linda Ervine MBE.

Ms Linda Ervine

A Chathaoirligh, a Sheanadóirí agus a dhaoine uaisle, go raibh míle maith agaibh as an gcuireadh inniu. Is onóir mhór dom a bheith anseo inniu. Tá brón orm, ach beidh mé ag caint i mBéarla mar tá nuance i gceist leis an mhéid atá le rá agam. Tá sé iontach deacair i dteanga eile.

I really want to get my story across. I will talk about northern Protestants and the Irish language. My own journey with the language epitomises the situation of many Protestants within Northern Ireland. I had no knowledge of the language, no connection to the language and no particular interest in it. It was a non-entity until I had the opportunity to be introduced to it in 2011. What followed was a roller coaster of new information as I discovered the place names, surnames, the words that we use in our everyday speech and the words that surrounded me my entire life, but I had never had the knowledge of them. It is not an exaggeration to say that meeting with the language changed the whole direction of my life. It enhanced it. I realised that I found this treasure. I just wanted to share it with other people in my community who, like me, because of the tradition they came from, had never had the opportunity to learn Irish.

When the media decided that my journey was interesting, it ended up in a couple of newspapers because my husband, Brian, was leader of the Progressive Unionist Party at the time. The reaction to that was twofold. There were some people from the Protestant community who approached me because they, too, wanted to learn Irish. There were others who criticised me and said that I was a traitor and a Lundy. That is the pattern that I have observed over the past ten years, since I set up the Turas Project in oirthear Bhéal Feirste.

Many of you probably think that I am very brave and very courageous because I obviously wear a flak jacket to work everyday and I go through a hail of missiles, which plays havoc with my hair. On a serious note, I face criticism and attack from some quarters but, overall, apart from a bit of nonsense on social media, the majority of the time I go about my business totally unhindered. I do not let the negativity that comes from a minority impact on the work that I do.

However, the success of my project has presented a threat to those who view Irish as a language of the enemy. Their only weapon against me is to undermine me by spreading false information. They say that I am working for Sinn Féin, that I am only in it for the money and that I am a useful idiot. I have even read that I am going out with somebody from Sinn Féin. My husband, Brian, asked me where I get the time. Those who make these accusations do it through social media. They do not use their own names or photographs. I find that it is difficult to feel threatened by people who do not have the courage to even expose themselves. They spew out their lies and innuendo from the safety of their own living rooms. These keyboard warriors are not interested in the wonderful cross-community work that takes place daily within the organisation that I run and the long-term friendships that are created between participants in our programmes.

Here is an insight into my world. These are the comments I hear from Protestants who have no link with the language, no engagement with the language and no knowledge of the language: “Why would I want to speak a republican language?”, “Protestants have no interest in the Irish language”, “It is a foreign language”, “It is a dead language”, “Sure they do not even speak it in the South”, although I do not know how true that is, and “You would be better off learning French or Spanish, love".

I am also told that learning Irish is divisive, which is something that I totally reject. For me, it is the perfect medium of reconciliation. It brings together people from our divided community. It is a bridge that unites our communities and reminds us of our shared history. It is a bridge between the countries of the British Isles. It is a language that went from Ireland over to Scotland and to the Isle of Man, and is part of the family of Celtic languages spoken throughout the British Isles at one time.

When I started my job as the manager of the Turas Project, I created a presentation called the Hidden History of Protestants in the Irish Language, which I have delivered to thousands of people over the past ten years. So many times I have watched people arrive and their body language shows that they are hostile. They have cold, hard stares. Then I watch as that changes to a look of disbelief, and then an accepting smile, as they discover that the language has links to the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian church, the Orange Order and even the Red Hand Commando, to name but a few. What I am trying to say is that people feel differently and react differently when they are given a broad range of information, rather than a narrow slice.

Here are some of the comments I have heard over the past ten years from the people who learn Irish with us: “I have always wanted to learn Irish”, “I wish I had the chance to learn it in school”, “It is beautiful”, “It is really difficult, but I have loved enjoying learning it”, “It is so interesting”, “I love finding out about the place names”, “I cannot believe it was all around me and I did not know”, “I have made so many friends” and “I just love it”.

I have watched the interest in Irish in east Belfast grow at a phenomenal rate over the past number of years. What started as a small, fledgling project in 2012 with the support of funding from Foras na Gaeilge is now one of the largest Irish language centres in Belfast, but the majority of learners are from the Protestant, unionist and loyalist, PUL, community. I would like to express my gratitude, while I am here speaking, to Foras na Gaeilge, because it had the foresight and courage to recognise our potential and it invested in our project. Without it, we would never have gotten off the ground and the Turas Project would not exist.

Ten years ago, many of our learners were frightened of people knowing that they were learning Irish. They did not want their neighbours, friends or even family members knowing. They feared criticism or worse – intimidation. Today, they are proud to be learning Irish. They bring their neighbours, friends and family members along to share in this new-found interest. They are posting about it online. They are enjoying their first experience of learning the language and they want to challenge those who tell them that Prods do not speak Irish. They are proving that wrong.

However, despite our best efforts, there are still limited opportunities for Protestants to engage with the language in many parts of Northern Ireland. Much negativity still surrounds the language, with many unionists regarding it as purely political. We fell foul of this last year when we attempted to open an integrated Irish-medium nursery school in a loyalist housing estate in east Belfast. Here is how it happened. I was invited into the estate by the local primary school to teach Irish to every single pupil in the school. While I was there, I was made aware that there was an old, unused mobile at the back of the school that had been set up for early years education. It was the perfect venue for the new náiscoil that we were planning to start. We spoke to the board of governors, one of whom was our recently departed DUP MLA, Christopher Stalford, and they gave it the thumbs up. As almost all of the children were learning Irish already without any issue from the parents, we as a committee believed it would not be a problem to temporarily house 16 three-year-olds.

Sadly, we were very wrong. As soon as the news of the náiscoil broke, an online hate campaign began. This was followed by a petition in the local shop, libellous posters with my face on them around the area, the spreading of misinformation and threats to protest outside the primary school. Despite pleas from the staff of the school and the parents that we should stay, we decided that it would be better to move. After much difficulty, we managed to get another venue.

However, after a short time it pulled out due to fear of intimidation and attack. At the last minute another organisation, Christian Fellowship Church in east Belfast stepped in and offered us a temporary home. Renewed online attempts to stir up trouble and organise protests fell on deaf ears and after what had been a difficult few months we opened on 4 October last year with a reduced number of children but we were still there. Since then, the naíscoil has been peacefully doing what it does best, providing high-quality childcare to young children and the naíscoil's motto: "Páistí sona ag foghlaim le chéile - Happy children learning together" is a reality. The naíscoil is almost at capacity and we have 22 registrations for next year. Our journey or turas continues and the number of Protestant learners continues to grow. More people are engaging with the language and realising that it belongs to us all on the island of Ireland.

Where can we say the Irish language is within Protestant communities today? It is in various places. It is in the negativity and hostility created by "Tiocfaidh ár lá". It is in the dismissive and condescending attitudes that come from some within unionism. It is also in the Protestant students who are now studying Irish with us at university. It is in Naíscoil na Seolta, where despite the threats of protest and intimidation parents are bringing their children and it is in the classrooms of Turas, where every year hundreds of students take their first faltering steps along their own language journeys.

I want to end by sharing an experience I had last night. I got a phone call from a girl I do not know, a Protestant girl called Miranda who lives in a big loyalist estate in Antrim. She rang me because she has a little bit of Irish having gone to a few classes and she has two children. The oldest one is old enough to go to nursery school and she wants to send it to an Irish-medium nursery school. She is worried about what her neighbours would say but her ex-partner is taking her to court because of it and she wanted our support, which we will give her. Miranda is not the most able girl in the world but she is doing something that makes her able; standing up and making the change. One day it will not be an issue for Protestant parents in big loyalist estates to send their children to an Irish-medium school but it takes time. Change is coming. It does not come easily but it does come.

That was a moving and informative speech on the journey that Ms Ervine and people in her community have undertaken.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte ó chroí a chur roimh Linda. Is iontach an rud é go bhfuil sí linn chun Seachtain na Gaeilge a cheiliúradh agus is iontach an rud é a scéal a chloisteáil. Tá a cuid oibre thar na blianta ar son a pobail agus ar son a teanga in oirthear Bhéal Feirste inspioráideach. Molaim go hard í as an sárobair seo. Briseann an obair sin baic agus cruthaítear tuiscint agus caoinfhulaingt. Bíonn Linda ag déanamh obair trasphobail agus tá sí ag athrú na meoin atá ag daoine faoin nGaeilge, rud atá soiléir ón mhéid atá ráite aici. Is rud fíorchumhachtach é seo. Is bean láidir stuama í Linda freisin. Tá Lá Idirnáisiúnta na mBan beagnach linn agus is maith an rud e gur féidir linn aird a tharraingt ar bhean cosúil le Linda ag obair le mná eile agus ag tabhairt cabhair dóibh.

Ba mhaith liom aird a tharraingt ar a cuid oibre agus ar obair a comhghleacaithe freisin. Go háirithe, molaim an méid a rinne siad chun Naíscoil na Seolta a bhunú le déanaí agus chun an Ghaeilge a bhronnadh ar an gcéad glúin eile. Tuigim nach raibh sé éasca agus na fadhbanna a bhí os a gcomhair. Ba mhaith liom ceannasaíocht Linda ó thaobh na cluichí Gaelacha a mholadh freisin. Tá sárobair á déanamh aici leis an gclub Cumainn Lúthchleasa Gael in oirthear Bhéal Feirste freisin. Tá borradh ag tarlú i mBéal Feirste faoi láthair ó thaobh na Gaeilge de agus tá Linda i gcroílár an bhorrtha sin. Tá sé fíorthábhachtach go n-achtófar reachtaíocht do chearta teanga chomh tapa agus is féidir chun tacaíocht a thabhairt don fhás sin agus do na daoine atá ag déanamh sár-iarracht chun an teanga a fháil agus chun rudaí breise a chur os comhair an phobail. Gabhaim buíochas le Linda as a bheith linn. Táimid anseo chun éisteacht léi. Lean ort le do sárobair; change is coming.

For some Connemara Irish we have Senator Kyne.

Cuirim fáilte chroíúil roimh Linda Ervine chuig Teach Laighean agus chuig Seanad Éireann. Is deas an rud é í a fheiceáil agus a chloisteáil agus tá scéal iontach inste aici. Tá stair fhada sa tír seo ó phlandáil Uladh go dtí Cogadh na Saoirse, na Trioblóidí agus toradh reifrinn na Breatimeachta. Tá an t-oileán scartha dá chéile. Oileán amháin atá ann le: dhá tír; dhá phríomhchreideamh; príomhteanga labhartha, an Béarla; dara teanga, an Ghaeilge; agus Ultais mar theanga mionlach. Is ábhar casta é.

Tá Linda mar ghuth aontaithe don dá traidisiún ar an oileán. Ní ról éasca é seo agus tá a fhios agam nach raibh turas éasca aici. Tréaslaím léi as an obair atá déanta aici chun ranganna Gaeilge a chur ar fáil in oirthear Bhéal Feirste do Phrotastúnaigh agus d'aontachtaithe. Tháinig logainm phríomhchathrach na Tuaiscirt, Belfast, as an nGaeilge, Béal Feirste, relating to the mouth of the river or the tidal ford across the river mouth. Tháinig logainm an dara chathair sa Tuaisceart, Derry, as an nGaeilge Doire, oak wood or grove. Tá muintir an Tuaiscirt ag úsáid na Gaeilge chuile lá. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil a fhios acu é ach sin an rud atá Linda ag obair air. Tá a fhios aici go bhfuil a lán ceisteanna maidir leis an nGaeilge sa Tuaisceart faoi láthair agus maidir leis an Acht teanga. Sna tithe seo táimid tar éis Acht níos láidre a chur tríd an Oireachtas. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil deacrachtaí le hAcht teanga a thabhairt isteach ó Thuaidh. Cé go bhfuil sé scríofa sna doiciméid idir an dá Rialtas agus na páirtithe go léir, tá deacrachtaí ann. Tá an obair atá á déanamh ag Linda ag cabhrú leis an bhfeachtas sin chun Acht a chur i bhfeidhm ar mhaitheas na teanga agus ar mhaitheas an traidisiúin sa Tuaisceart agus ar an oileán.

Ms Ervine's journey and story are powerful and it was a powerful contribution. As she said, she has come from having no relationship with the Irish language ten years ago to being inspired to learn and show that journey and relate it to other people. It is a journey that a lot of Catholics in the Twenty-six Counties can go through as well because a lot of people in the South go through the education system and they leave down the pen after doing paper 2 in Irish in the leaving certificate and that is it. They do not write another word in Irish although they might say a few words. It is a reawakening that is needed for so many people across the island. It is not a Catholic language; it is part of ancestral Ireland. If all communities can understand and accept that then it can be a language that will unify the island; not physically or governmentally but in a peaceful existence, which is important. The placenames are a wonderful way of illustrating that. I mentioned Derry and Belfast and there are hundreds of other examples, from large towns to small villages which have that connection. There are so many words and it is a wonderful part of our history.

Your contribution can only assist in developing relations on this island.

I wish you well in your continued journey. I know others are with you, such as Miranda, the lady who contacted you. I am sure there are many others throughout Northern Ireland. I wish you well in your endeavours for Irish. The language is part of the history, tradition and culture of the island. Irish is included in the Acht teanga but Ulster Scots is also included in recognition of that language. That has its own place and tradition as well.

An bhfuil cead agam mo chuid ama a roinnt le mo chomhghleacaí, an Seanadóir McDowell?

Ceart go leor.

Cuirim fáilte ó chroí romhat agus gabhaim buíochas leat, Linda, thar ceann gach duine, as ucht na ceannaireachta cultúrtha atá tú ag tabhairt dúinn ar fad. I thank you for the cultural leadership you give that is so important, at this time. When I think about the Irish language, I think about something that is very fragile in many ways, especially in this generation. Great steps have been taken, in both jurisdictions, to promote the importance of Irish and the rights of people. Plenty of ground still has to be covered.

However, I think of the recent Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú) 2021 and the steps we are taking politically to ensure in future our Civil Service recruits a minimum percentage of people who are capable of providing services to people through Irish. That would seem like a basic requirement for the revival, protection and promotion of our national language, but there we are. Thankfully, good things are happening.

However, when I think of Irish, I think of something that is not primarily political, but cultural and of something that has the capacity to be a carrier of beauty and a forger of understanding. Too often in our history, language and faith have been used as definers of division among people and used as causes when, in fact, lived properly, these are things that unite.

I would like to see the day when we do not have association in people's minds between the Irish language and phrases such as tiocfaidh ár lá. I prefer to think of phrases such as duine le Dia, that beautiful, moving Irish phrase to describe a person with disabilities - God's own people. When you sit down to a meal, you bless ár gcuid agus ár gcuideachta; our portion and our company. I think of our beautiful placenames.

I think of the influence of Irish on the English language as we speak it in Ireland. If you go to London and tell somebody that your brother broke your bike on you, the person might have an idea that he physically took your bicycle and broke it over your head. Of course, that comes from the Irish, bhris sé mo rothar orm. There are so many ways in how we speak English in this country that are influenced by our Irish language heritage.

It is so important to keep reminding ourselves that it is not just the heritage of one section of the community. When one thinks of athbheochan na teanga and the wonderful work that was done with the Celtic revival from the 19th century onwards, so many names associated with the Protestant community were central to the revival and appreciation of the Irish language. It is true there were nationalist aspirations, but there was something much more significant and uniting going on.

With that modest contribution I welcome you. Treisigh leat. Keep her lit. Keep this good work going on all our behalf.

Cuirim fíorfháilte romhat, Linda. Déarfaidh mé cúpla focal as Béarla. My grandfather, Eoin MacNeill, was, with Douglas Hyde, the co-founder of the Gaelic League. In 1913, Douglas Hyde was sidelined a little bit from the Gaelic League movement because it was politicised. My grandfather always regretted that was done to Douglas Hyde.

I agree with Senator Kyne. One of the great tragedies about the considerable amount of time that has been put into the teaching of Irish in this jurisdiction is that when children put down the pen on the leaving certificate, they never speak Irish again and are not in a position to conduct an ordinary conversation in Irish on day-to-day matters.

I agree completely with you, Linda, that it is a shared heritage. The Irish language must not be weaponised. It must be viewed as a commonly held resource. I congratulate you on everything you are doing and wish you every success in your efforts in the future.

Cuirim fáilte roimh ár gcuairteoir speisialta. Is mór an trua é nach bhfuil Gaeilge líofa agam. Ba mhaith liom feabhas a chur ar mo chuid Gaeilge. Tugann daoine cosúil le Linda inspioráid dom. Is iomaí duine ina ceantar féin atá ag foghlaim Gaeilge don chéad uair. Tá ardmheas agam ort, a Linda.

The Irish language will only stay alive for as long as it is spoken. When a tree no longer bears fruit, it has no future. However, when new shoots come through the soil, we know that other trees are growing. All hope is not lost. There is new growth taking place. A future is possible. Tá an Ghaeilge fós beo. Tá daoine cosúil le Linda ag coimeád beo í. New shoots are in east Belfast which are now firmly rooted.

Other commentators describe the Irish language as being on its knees, but it is still here. Linda, you are an example of someone who found it and embraced it. You made it your own. It is a language that belongs to everyone. Is ár dteanga féin í. It is a precious jewel. It belongs to no political party, creed or community. It is older than all the political parties on this island. It has been and is still spoken by all traditions and none and must never become entangled in divisive politics. It should never be marginalised.

On your wonderful journey, you have remained truly loyal to your background, beliefs and unionism. Unionism and its culture, which is an important part of our identity on this island, can be in a stronger place with people like you. It can be in a safer and more confident place. All of us, North and South, can take a leaf from your book and your leadership. You are a woman making your own history and history will record that you broke new ground and opened new hearts and minds to the beautiful language of Irish. Last year, in the Seanad, I congratulated you on your MBE and the incredible work you are doing.

I also know your brother-in-law is the late David Ervine. We are honoured to have Brian Ervine, his brother, in the Chamber today. I greatly admired David. He looked to the future. He was born into loyalism but he was authentic and wanted to look to a future and not the past. He was a huge impetus at the time of the peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

I remember him, before Ian Paisley had the road to Damascus conversion and became a working friend Martin McGuinness, saying "Big Ian, cop yourself on". I thought that was so refreshing. I remember it like it was yesterday when that peace agreement was struck and David Ervine leaving the building, saying in his lovely vernacular, "I don't know about the rest of you. I'm dog tired. I'm going to the pub." It is funny what you remember.

I had the pleasure of meeting David. He was in the Abbey Theatre at a time when it might not have been politically so easy to come down here. He attended Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme, a wonderful play by my former lecturer, Frank McGuinness. Maybe a challenge for us would be to put on that play as Gaeilge at some stage.

It is funny what you should say about the lies spun about you that did not put you off course. At the Green Party Ard-Fheis last year, we had a guest speaker, Professor Monica McWilliams, who played a pivotal role in the peace process. She said lies were spun about her that she was having affairs. Anything was done to attack the man or woman and not the ball.

However, great efforts have been made. I draw an analogy between the Irish language and the Tricolour, which sometimes can scare people. I remember a Member of this House, a founder and former member of a political party called the Progressive Democrats giving his presidential address to the Ard-Fheis. They tried to take back the Tricolour.

I do not know if he remembers this. He does not do things by half measures. He plastered the place with Tricolours and they were all over the platform from which he spoke. There was a definite meaning to what he tried to do, just like when Michael Noonan, who is a very decent man, professed that he was an Irish republican and proud of it when he became leader of Fine Gael. We have to take back what is ours and only look to ourselves, not to others, to criticise. Linda will be an inspiration for us all and we are honoured to have her here today. I congratulate and commend an Cathaoirleach on making what I consider an historic address to this Chamber. We are so proud that he gave that address here today.

Roimh a chuirim fáilte roimh Linda, aithním go bhfuil uachtarán nuathofa Chonradh na Gaeilge, Paula Melvin, linn sa Ghailearaí, chomh maith le hard-stiúrthóir Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, an iar-Sheanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú. Tá fáilte roimh an bheirt acu agus na haíonna speisialta uilig atá linn inniu.

Linda agus Brian, tá fáilte romhaibh. It is great to see a few more east Belfast people in the Chamber. They are very welcome. I have watched with great delight Linda’s work, as well as the work of Turas and those who are on the journey with her. I am sure she would acknowledge that there has been a great team around her. For all the negativity you have received, you have also had a lot of support, which I know has been of great importance to you as you have led on this journey.

You and I are both from east Belfast. We are both from different backgrounds and traditions and we both have different world views - or so others would tell us. Does it not say something that what unites us, the commonality we have, is what so many would seek to label as being divisive, that is, the Irish language? That is what binds us. That is the tie that binds. Senator McDowell reflected on the history of the Gaelic League. The first branch of the Gaelic League in Belfast was established on the Beersbridge Road, in what is now a very staunch and proud unionist and loyalist part of the city. Part of the work of Turas is sharing that unique history and telling not just the Protestant, unionist and loyalist, PUL, community but everyone, including all of us here today, that that is the history of the language in our city and, indeed, throughout the rest of the country. My old secondary school, Meánscoil Feirste, was established in the early 1990s in a former Presbyterian church on the Falls Road, which is another symbol of our differences and our linkages. It was set up in Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, which is named after the late Cardinal Tomás Ó Fiaich, a great scholar and advocate of the Irish language, and Robert Shipboy McAdam, a Presbyterian who was part of that generation of Presbyterians that did crucial work in preserving the language and keeping that flame alive.

As someone who passed through that education sector, I am acutely aware of the history of Protestants preserving the language and handing it down to us, because we were taught about it. You are the contemporary representation of that, Linda, and what you are doing at Turas is so special. I do not say that to be clichéd or to give you any plámás. Not only is Turas and its ethos and work important because it is reawakening an awareness of the Irish language among the PUL community, but because, like so many others across this country and beyond, it is sharing, teaching, learning and speaking the Irish language, lán stad. That is the jewel in this. That is the real crux and importance of it. I know you want to get to a point where it does not really matter who you are or where you are coming from but what is important and special is learning, sharing and speaking the language. I recall when Turas came to visit me at the parlour in City Hall when I was Lord Mayor and when it walked with us in the St. Patrick’s Day parade. You took a wee bit of flack for that at the time, if I recall correctly. It is a very small group of people and Turas now has some of the biggest, if not the biggest, Irish language classes in the city happening on the lower Newtownards Road. Who would have thought that possible ten or 15 years ago?

The elephant in the room when we come to the Irish language, which Senator Clifford-Lee mentioned, is the need for legislation that protects you and me. It would protect our community and all of us, and develop and enrich our society. You are doing fantastic work. I know you are probably scundered having to sit there and listen to all of this but we are delighted to have you. It is important that we have more opportunities to hear voices like yours in this institution. Guím gach rath ort i do chuid oibre agus táim ag súil go mór le bheith ag labhairt leat. I wish you every success with Naíscoil na Seolta because that is where this is at. It is about giving the language to young children and letting them learn it, live it and speak it. Go n-éirí go geal leat agus go raibh céad míle maith agat as a bheith linn.

Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh Linda chuig Seanad Éireann inniu agus aitheantas a thabhairt don obair thábhachtach atá ar siúl aici le bunú Turas agus Naíscoil na Seolta. Tá sé léirithe agat gur meán í teanga inar féidir pobal a aontú. Sin mar is féidir dul chun cinn a dhéanamh agus léas a thabhairt isteach trí bheith ag foghlaim faoinár stair agus faoinár gcultúr comhroinnte. Tá stair fhairsing ag an Seanad maidir le guthanna mionlaigh agus tá cuntas ag an Teach seo ó thaobh tábhacht na teanga de. Mar shampla, san Oireachtas roimhe seo, ritheadh Bille an Chathaoirligh, an Seanadóir Mark Daly, chun aitheantas a thabhairt do Theanga Chomharthaíochta na hÉireann.

My pronunciation is not great and my language is not great. Like many, I am trying to improve all the time.

The work you have done in recognising what language means, what it can do and how it can be a measure of connection in communities is so important. That is also important in this House because one of the themes of our centenary is minority voices. The Seanad has a record in minority voices, both in terms of voices from unionist traditions and minority voices championing the language. That is something we hold very dear. In the previous Seanad the Cathaoirleach initiated legislation, which then became law, that recognised Irish Sign Language and gave that legislative recognition to the language. It is an example of how languages layer onto each other. Across the island, new migrants are coming in and bringing languages of their own and are learning English and Irish, and in many cases Irish Sign Language as well. Every time we layer that language, it brings more understanding, more depth and more possibilities. Senator Kyne put it very well when he said that the Irish language reaches far back into history has a history far longer than the State or our political bodies. It has a future that goes very far beyond any of the political debates of the day as well. It has that longer future. I commend Naíscoil na Seolta because it recognises the future of the language and the future of learning together. Its motto is “ag foghlaim le chéile”, which means "learning together". You have championed learning together but your work is also about learning what it is to be together. I commend you on that and thank you again for joining us today.

Ar dtús báire, gabhaim comhghairdeas leis an gCathaoirleach as ucht na hócáide iontaí seo a eagrú. Tá sé an-mhaith. Mo chomhghairdeas duit. Is cúis áthais dom Linda a fháiltiú anseo inniu. Tréaslaím go mór leis an obair iontach atá ar siúl agat ar son ár dteanga agus ár n-oidhreacht. Tá sé an-oiriúnach go bhfuil tú linn chun Seachtain na Gaeilge a cheiliúradh.

Is cúis áthais dom chomh maith mo sheanchara, an iar-Sheanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú a fháiltiú inniu, agus in éineacht leis, uachtarán Chomhaltas Ceoltóirí Éireann, CCÉ, Éamonn Ó hArgáin, agus baill eile de riaracháin agus d’ardchomhairle CCÉ. Ar ndóigh, táim an-sásta fáiltiú roimh uachtarán tofa Chonradh na Gaeilge chomh maith.

Linda, is í ár dteanga eochair ár litríochta agus ár n-oidhreacht shaibhir agus tá sé sin chomh tábhachtach. The language, as you clearly delineated in your remarks, in your life and in all the great work you do with the Turas project etc, is not the possession of any demographic or religion. In fact, you follow in a great tradition of a wonderful Protestant churchman of the 17th century, Bishop Bedell, who was the Bishop of Kilmore and translated the bible into Gaelic. You follow in that noble and rich tradition. Irish language, literature and culture, including musical culture, which is exemplified by our visitors here, are a rich possession of the Protestant community, the Catholic community and, indeed, our new Irish - we want them to enjoy it too. You are right; it is not about sectarian divisions or walls. It is about unity and bringing people together.

I sincerely salute your wonderful work, Linda. I am proud to be in the same room as you and to have the privilege of welcoming you. I genuinely admire what you are doing. We need more people like you. In fact, people like you are needed all over the world sadly. Again, I congratulate the Cathaoirleach on this wonderful initiative.

It is a very special day for the House. May we have many such healing and wonderful days in the future. If only Linda’s example could permeate out to the rest of the world.

We will ask Linda to respond to those very kind remarks. What was the word Senator Ó Donnghaile used?

Scundered. I think it might be Ulster Scots.

I am not too sure what it means but I think it is a scarlet or something like that. Linda, we are delighted to have you here. Thank you for addressing the Seanad. The Members were delighted to have you here as well. I ask you to respond and then the Leader will conclude the business.

Ms Linda Ervine

Tá sibh ró-chineálta. You are too kind. Tá mé overwhelmed. Is onóir mhór dom a bheith anseo. I said to my husband Brian on our way down that I remember him bringing me to Dublin the first time. It must be about 18 years ago. To come here today in this respect - as Senator Ó Donnghaile said, we are from a few streets away from each other; I come from a back street in east Belfast and it is such a great honour to be here.

Is Éireannach mé. I have never been anything else but that and I will always be that. No matter if anyone tries to tell me that I am not. Is Briotanach mé fosta ach is Éireannach mé ar dtús. I shared this with someone earlier on. My grandfather on my father’s side was a man from outside London who came here in the 1930s and married my nanny. The reason we knew we were Irish was not because anybody ever sat us down and told us that but because he was a bloody Englishman. We knew we were right because we were Irish and he was wrong. On my mother’s side, my grandmother was Kathleen Kelly, a Catholic woman from Clifton Street, who married a Presbyterian man with a very Irish name. We are not one thing or the other. We share this island. This island and the language are part of us. I am so fortunate to have met the language and to have got the chance to be ag streachailt leis an teanga. Tá sé ag éirí níos fearr ach tá sé iontach fadálach. To the Senators who apologise for their Irish, there is no apology needed. I do not apologise. I am just glad that I am learning it. What started just over ten years ago, I am now in my second year of my degree. I may never be líofa - I do not know - but the turas, the journey, is wonderful. Go raibh míle maith agaibh.

I call on the Leader of the House to respond.

I am unfortunately in the position of not being able to speak Irish, but I have to say that was one of the most humbling addresses I have ever witnessed in the 11 years I have served in the Oireachtas. I thank you so much for coming, Linda, for sharing your experience and journey, and for your humbleness to how you approached the conflict and anger you experienced over the past ten years. You are so good to have given up your time and for sharing your experienced today. It has enriched my day, my week and my experience. I wish you continued success in everything you do. I wish we could clone you and make 50 more of you. You described the truth and the way forward, in that we are all just what we are but we have to try to get on with and have respect for one another. That is sadly lacking in many of our political discourse. Thank you very much for what you are doing from the grassroots up and for sharing that experience with us.

Cuireadh an Seanad ar fionraí ar 2.27 p.m. agus cuireadh tús leis arís ar 2.47 p.m.
Sitting suspended at 2.27 p.m. and resumed at 2.47 p.m.