Ceist an-thábhachtach í seo. Dá bhféadfadh an tAire gníomh fónta a dhéanamh i leith na Gaeltachta, bheadh clú agus cáil tuilte aige i measc laochra Éireann agus mhairfeadh a ainm go deo chomh fada is a bheadh Gael in Éirinn beo. Níor mhór le h-éinne dhó an clú is an cáil, ach is beag comhartha ná deimhniú atá againn go dtí seo go bhfuil aon mhachnamh doimhin déanta ag an Aire ná aghaidh thréan tabhartha aige ar na fadhbanna agus na deacrachtaí nach féidir a sheachaint.
Tá daoine ann a déarfadh gur sa Ghaeilge ba chóir an cheist seo a phlé ach tá an-chuid de mhuintir na hÉireann a bhfuil suim aca i gceist na Gaeltachta agus nach bhfuil an teanga chó laidir sin aca gur féidir leo gach rud a deirtear sa Ghaeilge a thuiscint. Is baol liom, uaireannta, go n-úsáidtear an Ghaeilge chun saghas cló draíochta a thógaint ós cionn na ceiste. Mar sin, ba mhian liomsa cúpla focal a rá i mBéarla agus na tuairimí atá agam a nochtadh.
When the Ministry of the Gaeltacht was set up, it had certain aims which were placed before the House at that time. A little later, in Seanad Éireann, a motion was introduced to the effect that the proper way to save the Gaeltacht was by setting up a Board. The debate on the motion is reported in Volume 45 of the Seanad Debates, for Wednesday, 2nd November, 1955. An Seanadóir Mac Aodha a chur an cheist seo ós cóir an tSeanaid an uair sin. His aim was, as he said, to enable the Gaeltacht, not alone to survive, but to better itself both economically and in the interests of the Irish language.
Speakers from both political Parties took part in the debate. They disagreed with the idea of a board because they felt a Ministry which would coordinate the aspects of Government in the various Departments which have a part in the administration of affairs in so far as the Gaeltacht is concerned was the proper means for promoting the Irish language and the economic welfare of the people in the Gaeltacht.
On that occasion, Senator Hayes set out the position as he saw it. The language is a very precious national inheritance and we should try to ensure that the purity of the language is maintained in the Gaeltacht but the people in the Gaeltacht do not speak the Irish language for the sake of obtaining any grants; they speak the Irish language because it is the natural mode for them from an cliabháin. We do not want the Gaeltacht to disappear and that requires that the people of the Gaeltacht should find it economically possible not only to maintain themselves there but to increase. At column 483 of the Official Report, Senator Hayes said:
That is to say you require to achieve economic improvement but economic improvement which will not injure the position of the Irish language. As I said at column 612 of the Official Report for the 4th March, 1954:—
"The problem is how can we preserve Irish-speaking communities in their present situation,"
and not as migrants.
The argument then for the setting up of the Ministry was that a Government Minister sitting among his colleagues could influence the Government and the various Ministries and could influence this House and the people to use their efforts to co-ordinate the various arms of the State for the welfare of the Gaeltacht and could initiate schemes which he considered wise in the interests of the Gaeltacht and of its people. It was for that reason that a Ministry was preferred to a board.
Now the Ministry is so many years old. It is still young, of course, but having regard to the high hopes that were held out for it, looking at it at this stage, can we say that the results are inspired? Reference has been made already to the dwindling population of the Gaeltacht. It is not implied that any Ministry can keep people in the Gaeltacht.
A Deputy has referred to the economics of the situation for the people concerned. The difficulties are recognised by the Minister, the House and the country, but is sufficient effort being made to overcome these difficulties? That is the kernel of the situation. It is fundamental that there must be favoured persons treatment for the people of the Gaeltacht. I suggest that that is not sufficient, that there should be favoured persons treatment for those in the Gaeltacht and the BreachGhaeltacht. It should not be confined to the Gaeltacht. Such treatment should be available to people in the Breach-Ghaeltacht who speak the Irish language, because it is from that point that the spread of the language must be encouraged so that eventually there may be a linking up of Gaeltacht and Breach-Ghaeltacht.
If the Gaeltacht dries up, the effort is in vain. The work of the teachers and pupils will go for nothing. The preference which is available for Irish in regard to positions will become illusory if the Gaeltacht shrinks and the number of Irish-speakers in the Gaeltacht diminishes year by year.
I do not believe that migration is the solution for this problem. I mentioned this matter here in previous years in regard to the policy of the Land Commission. I would suggest to the Minister, who has a dual capacity at the present time, that the Gaeltacht ought to grow outward and that it is not serving the interests of the Gaeltacht to bring families out of the Gaeltacht and transfer them as entities to other parts of the country.
When the Sasanach was planted here at the time of the Statutes of Kilkenny, he was absorbed into the culture of the neighbourhood about him and became, as the Statutes of Kilkenny were designed to achieve, more Irish than the Irish themselves. Is the Minister satisfied that the families from the Gaeltacht who have been taken principally from the western seaboard and have been settled elsewhere have remained chomh Gaolach is a bhíodar? Or is their culture and their language being absorbed into the surrounding countryside? Is it making its impact on the habits that prevail in these areas to which these people have been migrated?
Why is it that we cannot devise a policy whereby, if we want to move these people and provide them with an economic holding—in these areas in the west an economic holding would constitute a much larger tract of land —we could not move people from, say, east Galway, people who are perhaps themselves at this stage English-speaking, thereby making land available immediately contiguous to the Gaeltacht and, in that way, allowing the Gaeltacht to expand from within itself into these adjacent areas? It seems to me that that would be a policy which might—I do not say it would—produce better results than have been produced by taking these people and transferring them away from their natural contact with their neighbours. It is by contact with neighbours that the Gaeltacht lives and thrives. Anybody who has been to the Gaeltacht knows that the Gaeltacht survives in the scoraíochtha, rinncí and tigheas, the moving about the home country, family meetings and people moving in and out freely in the homes of their neighbours.
That is the ground on which the language, and all that it means, can best be preserved as the medium of communication between the people and the families in the Gaeltacht. In that way one keeps the people, too, in their natural environment, with their ordinary commercial undertakings, be they agricultural or industrial. That is the way in which you keep them in contact with their neighbours, with those with whom they grew up. Instead of portions of the Gaeltacht being, as it were, picked up and transplanted elsewhere in the hope that it will thereby grow and thrive, you keep the Gaeltacht together as a homogeneous whole, giving it a chance to live, and to maintain its contacts with its other roots.
The economic development of the Gaeltacht is not, in my opinion, a question of spending more money. Spending more money might seem to some people an admirable way of doing things; it may seem to be the proper thing to do but, to my mind, it is not a question of spending more money but rather a question of spending the money wisely and spending it on a properly planned basis. Connemara is at the moment the strongest and largest Gaeltacht in the country. The Minister ought to take that area and, for a start, see what can be done in it. He should concentrate on that area to see if, on his own initiative and with the ideas of others, he may not be able to formulate a policy which will enable that Gaeltacht to grow and expand. If the Minister succeeds in enlarging the Gaeltacht in Connemara, then the remedy successfully applied there can be equally successfully applied in other Gaeltachta because it will have proved itself. There is a road policy in regard to the Gaeltacht. There is a policy for developing strands and building chalets, for providing fishing gear, and so on.
How is this policy getting on in Connemara? Do those who formulated it believe it has succeeded in doing what it was hoped it would do, not alone in relation to the economic life of the Gaeltacht but also in relation to the actual enlargement of the Gaeltacht, to the preservation, utilisation and the spread of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht itself because the people there were made economically better off by this policy of the Government in providing help for them?
The Minister, when he comes to reply, might tell us what progress has been made. I am sure he will not take it amiss if I ask him at this stage if he has any plan of his own for the Gaeltacht. Or is he waiting to administer and implement the ideas that come to him from the officials of his Department and from various people who make suggestions? I am sure the Minister has received suggestions. Are these suggestions considered with the care and attention that ought to be given to them to see whether they might be adopted, in whole or in part, and used for the benefit both of the people and of the language in the Gaeltacht?
What is least desired in the Gaeltacht is a hand-to-mouth existence. If we merely look at the Gaeltacht as something to which this House is merely committed at this time and leave it to somebody else to deal with it at some other time, then we are stultifying policy completely insofar as the Gaeltacht is concerned. The people in these areas would prefer to live in the Gaeltacht, to live there their own natural lives, as their people lived them before them, but feeling that they can do so economically. Now, when I say economically, I do not mean in a saving fashion; I mean it would be just as well for them to live in that area rather than leave the area to find a living elsewhere.
There is something inconsistent in life if a person finds that remaining in the Gaeltacht and speaking the Irish language means he must wear the badge of poverty. There is something inconsistent in life if the people of the Gaeltacht feel that it is just a matter of the Government of the day, or a particular Minister, giving them handouts to enable them to survive from month to month, from year to year, or from gloom to gloom. If that is our approach to the Gaeltacht, and to the salvation of the Gaeltacht, then I suggest to the Minister that we lack a proper, coherent policy. No matter how many glasshouses we provide, no matter how many fishing boats we provide, if the people who live there do not feel their lives can be as fully, as well and as economically lived as they could be elsewhere, then the tendency will be for the youth growing up there to look afar.
We all know that faraway cows have long horns, but it is not always healthy for these youths from the Gaeltacht to plant themselves elsewhere. They may, perhaps, find themselves earning more money than they could earn in the Gaeltacht, but that should not be the yardstick. Indeed, I hope it would not be the yardstick of what life for them means. I know a good deal of hard thinking is needed in regard to the Gaeltacht. This is not a matter that can be postponed forever. Sadly, we have to admit that the census figures show, as previous census figures have shown, go bhfuil líon na Gaeltachta ag dul i laghad in ionad bheith ag dul i méid.