Is gnáth le muintir Fhianna Fáil á rá gurb í ceist na Gaeilge ceann den dá cheist is tábhachtaí sa tír seo. Sí ceist an Tuaiscirt an cheist eile. Tá sé sin ráite agus ath-ráite acu agus chualamar go minic é agus go ró-mhinic b'fhéidir. Is annamh a bhíonn uain againn anseo ceist na Gaeilge a phlé. Ach tugann an Meastachán seo deis dúinn rud éigin a rá. Chad a chímid? Níl Aire ar bith anseo ón Rialtas a chuireann oiread spéise sa cheist mhór seo.
With no apologies to Deputy Tunney I will say that in English too. The Fianna Fáil Party have told us ever since their foundation that the two most important questions in this country are the question of the Irish language and the question of the North. We very rarely have an occasion here for a serious discussion on the question of the Irish language. One of these rare occasions is the debate on the Estimate for the Department of the Gaeltacht. If they were serious, if they meant what they say, you would expect, on such an occasion when one of the two most important questions before the country was being discussed, to see Ministers here, members of this Government for whom this is one of the two most important questions. There is no Minister here.
We have been told—and of course I accept it—that the Minister responsible, Deputy Colley, Minister for Finance and for the Gaeltacht, cannot be here because he has these two sets of responsibilities and because he has to be in the Seanad. I am sure he would be here if he could. I will just make a further comment on this, that it is the Government who have the ordering of the day's business in, as I understand it, both Houses of the Oireachtas. It would not have been beyond the ingenuity of man, and certainly not beyond the ingenuity of Deputy Colley, the dual Minister, who is a very intelligent man, to order the business of the House—and I am sure we would all agree with it—in such a way that he could be here so that we could at least have the Minister for the Gaeltacht here for the debate on the Estimate for the Department of the Gaeltacht. That is not a great deal to ask. I think we are justified in suggesting that that should have been done.
There are other Ministers who should be concerned and who are not here. The proposals put before us in this statement include proposals which affect the Department of Local Government. We also suggest that the Minister for Education should be here. Frankly, I do not think that it is quite good enough that he is not here when the question that has concerned people who are interested in the Gaeltacht, perhaps more than any other question in the past year and more, has been the question of education, of which the symbol is Dún Chaoin school, or an important symbol. I do not think it is enough in reply to that for the Parliamentary Secretary to say: "That is not for us. That is for Education." I do not think that is treating the House or the public as adults and I do not think it is showing an integrated, coherent approach to the problems of the Gaeltacht.
Deputy Tunney is here. We will be hearing from him later. If I may say so, it is always a pleasure to hear him speak in the Irish language which he speaks beautifully. Most of us, myself included, could take lessons from him. As well as how beautifully he says it. I will also be interested in what he will be saying so beautifully when he talks in particular about Dún Chaoin school. He has views on that question and I am not sure that his views are all that remote from my own. I hope he will give expression to them.
The question of the Gaeltacht—and here the Government will agree with me in terms of verbalisation—is not just a question of material aid and material contributions. The Parliamentary Secretary mentioned an increase in contributions to the Gaeltacht. That is welcome but it is only part of the whole story. He said:
Is ar phobal na Gaeltachta atáthar ag brath chun labhairt na Gaeilge mar ghnáththeanga a chothú ar fud na Gaeltachta.
It depends on the people of the Gaeltacht to spread the speaking of Irish as an ordinary language throughout the Gaeltacht. True, but if that effort is to be expected of the people of the Gaeltacht, surely they need something more than just doles and talking down to from on high, which is what they get and which is, I am afraid, what they get in this statement. While it says some nice things, its tone rather resembles the tone of a fairly enlightened colonial governor towards some slightly backward people. There is that overtone in it. I am afraid this is the approach of the Government to this question.
We put questions about Dún Chaoin school to the Minister for Education. I put to him in particular the question, "How come this?" The parents of Dún Chaoin have made it clear that they want to keep the school open and furthermore the school is actually being kept open with the support of the great majority of the parents and the children are going to it. I asked the Minister: "How can you prefer the words of two inspectors of yours who assure you of something or other, to what the great majority of the parents in this remote but very keen parish think? They say one thing. Your inspectors say another. Without hesitation you take the inspectors' words." The Minister's answer was, with a little inflection: "Oh, you know the Gaeltacht people." He did not expand on that but I am afraid the implication was, these are people you cannot rely on: they are not like the very civilised civil servants who come down from Dublin and on whom you can depend, who are authorities on what the people of Dún Chaoin think even if the people of Dún Chaoin say they think something different.
I am afraid that, in a nutshell, is the colonial attitude. There was an enlightened paternal attitude in the old colonialism but there were other very regrettable attitudes in it too. I am sure the attitude of the Government is intended to be enlightened and paternal but it is not adequate; it is not suitable, because if the people of the Gaeltacht are to be encouraged, as distinct from receiving a remote lecture, if they are to get real encouragement to get the Gaeltacht moving, to have it a real, live community instead of a decaying rather stagnant area, then it needs something more than addresses from on high and something more than redrawings, we really do not know on what principle, of local government boundaries. It needs, above all, the kind of approach that involves listening to the people of the Gaeltacht, not talking at them, but listening to them. I see no signs of that approach here.
A Department of the Gaeltacht who was genuinely, seriously, profoundly concerned with the Gaeltacht would not have presented a document here at the end of the year such as we have had, which did not say a word about this question, a question which is not just represented by Scoil Dún Chaoin. That is not mentioned, on the arid, narrow, bureaucratic ground, "That is for the Minister for Education" and the Minister for Education is not even here. This is the Minister for Education who does not care sufficiently about the Gaeltacht to be here when the Estimate is being debated and it is to this Minister, who cares to that extent about it, that the Minister for the Gaeltacht, who is not here either, is happy to hand over the whole problem. "That is for Education".
Surely, this will not do? Surely, there must be people in Fianna Fáil who see that this will not do, who see that if something is to be done in the Gaeltacht it is the people of the Gaeltacht who must do it and that in order to help them to do it—our help from outside can only be a secondary thing in any case—they must first listen to the people of the Gaeltacht?
I am going to say a little bit about this question of Scoil Dún Chaoin. I am a Dublin Deputy and I am delivering most of my speech in English because, quite frankly, I speak with more ease in that language than I speak in Irish. I think there are many Deputies who feel the same way. Unfortunately, they are not here. They vote for English, you might say, with their feet. The Deputies who are here are, of course, fluent in the language. But— and Deputy Begley said this too and I was very glad he said it—the question of the Gaeltacht ought to be of concern to all of us, even those of us who speak and use English with considerably greater facility than we use Irish. For all of us—and all of us have at least studied Irish in school, or almost all of us—the question that is symbolised by Dún Chaoin school is important because there are two aspects, frankly, of the Irish language. There is one which is capable of drawing affection, love, respect, and that aspect is represented by the living literature of Irish and the old literature and by the Gaeltacht, the life of the Gaeltacht, the people in the Gaeltacht, and their speech. That is something which can still, from generation to generation of young people who are in contact with that, draw their affection, can become a meaningful, living thing in their lives. It can enrich them as people. I think we would all agree with that, at least in form.
But there is another aspect that makes people shrug their shoulders and say "Oh, Irish!" and turn away from the language and do desperate things like joining the Language Freedom Movement, which is directly against this language. I do not approve of the Language Freedom Movement, or belong to it, but I think that those who have been responsible for the Irish language and for the Gaeltacht over all these years, those who have failed to reach young people with the message that this is something attractive, extraordinary, unique and interesting, are responsible for the growth of the Language Freedom Movement. It is their creation because people are repelled, frankly, by all the hypocrisy, the monumental, official hypocrisy that surrounds this whole subject, that, as they say in contemporary dialect, turns them off.
Even though, or even because, the Gaeltacht themselves are very small units, in demographic terms tiny, for this reason itself they are extraordinarily precious. They are precious to us all, even to those who have never to any great extent beaten, as it were, the drum of the Irish language.
Here we come to this point of numbers. The particular Gaeltacht that I am going to speak of here—it must be true of most of them—is the Gaeltacht of Corca Duibhne, of which one important centre is Dún Chaoin. I am not from that part of the world but my wife's family have long connections with it and she and I spend a considerable time there. This community has received an injury and an insult in the official decision to close this school. It is a proud community. It has a lot to be proud of. I do not want to be invidious in comparisons but it certainly has one of the most live literary traditions of any Gaeltacht. Three people in that parish have written poems about the closing of that school. These are not in any ordinary sense of the word intellectuals. They live by the work of their hands. Nor are they stirred up, as someone was foolish enough to suggest, by outside agitators on this point. They write the poetry because they care.
This is something from a living stream. What have they got from the Government? From the Department of the Gaeltacht, which should be concerned, they have got the brush-off. From the Department of Education they have been told: "Go, jump in the lake." That is the advice. The Minister for Education applies a rule of thumb: the numbers have gone below a certain point. The decision is to kill off the school without any consideration of the fact that this school is one of the dying, precious key points in what should be an integrated strategy for the Gaeltacht. Of course, one cannot talk of an integrated strategy here when the Department of Education does not even bother to show up for the Estimate on the Gaeltacht. There is nothing integrated about this. It is all piecemeal. Essentially there is nothing but doles. I do not say that doles are unnecessary or undesirable. They are needed as a kind of crutch. Doles are no substitute but doles are all that are offered.
I should like to plead for the application of two principles. First, I would ask the Minister and the Government to listen to the people themselves, not in some vast hall where a great many people come together and there are oráidí, but to listen to the people in their own little community, talking about their little communities, and not to treat them to vaguely conceived generalities but to treat each little community with the respect it deserves, the respect which is not symbolised by public tribute but rather by listening to them and doing what they ask so far as that can be done.
I come back now—I make no apology for doing so—to the question of Dunquin school. It may not seem important in Dublin that that school should be kept open. The children can be taken by bus to Ballyferriter. To the people living in the area, the people affected, that is not the answer. This little Irish community has survived almost miraculously in the face of the passivity and artificiality of the Government. It is a precious area and the views of the people in the area should have been listened to and should have prevailed over a mere rule of thumb. The Minister for the Gaeltacht should have been in there, expostulating with his colleague. He should have told him he must not do what he proposed to do. This rule of thumb may be useful in normal circumstances in other areas, but the condition of the Gaeltacht is far from normal and, if you are going to snuff out local schools because numbers fall below a certain level, irrespective of the wishes of the parents, then you are killing the Gaeltacht and destroying the tradition of the Gaeltacht. I have nothing to say against the Irish tradition of Ballyferriter. It is also rich traditionally, but it is different. It is neither better nor worse; it is just different from Dunquin. There are separate traditions.
There would be a point at which numbers might fall so low that the situation would become absolutely impossible. But the parents in Dunquin are by no means silly or deluded people. They have strong ideas about the interests of their children and they will not struggle to keep open a school in which their children cannot get a proper education. Why would they? Their concern for their children is much deeper than ours or the Department's and, I would say, it is more intelligent and more flexible. They know what can be done. They ask for what they know can be done and they are overruled.
The Parliamentary Secretary did not find it necessary to refer to this matter in his opening statement. His colleague, the Minister for Education, is not here. That is an indictment of Government policy. The Government say one thing and, because of their insensitivity, they do the other thing. The prime need is to listen to the people in the Gaeltacht and show receptivity to their reactions. The demand in Dunquin is clear but, if the demand cannot be met, the people there should at least be told why. This is the kind of respect that has not been shown and no doles are any substitute for the absence of respect. There is an attempt to kill this little Gaeltacht to the accompaniment of statements which are unintentionally but actually contemptuous and patronising.
There should be an integrated approach to the Gaeltacht. It is the Minister for the Gaeltacht who should speak after consultation with his colleague, the Minister for Education, and he should present to us not a rather narrow type of financial statement, which is what we have here, which is essentially congratulatory of the Government because of the money provided out of the taxpayers' pockets for the area, but a statement of an integrated strategy for the revival and development of the Gaeltacht. These are the two main points.
I should like to say a word about the Gaeltacht radio.
Fáiltímid go léir roimh Radio na Gaeltachta agus roimh scéimeanna riaradh a gcúrsaí féin a thúirt do mhuintir na Gaeltachta, más fíor gurab iad muintir na Gaeltachta féin a bheidh go h-éifeachtach i gcumhacht ins na h-eagrasaí nua so. Sin í an cheist a lua mé cheana faoi mhuintir na Gaeltachta féin, gur radio don Ghaeltacht agus don Ghalltacht a bheidh ann agus nach cláracha is dóigh le muintir Átha Cliath a bhéadh oiriúnach do mhuintir na Gaeltachta, go mór mhór nach cláracha chun turasóirí a mhealladh nó Gaeilge a mhúineadh don Ghalltacht a bheidh ann ach an treoir a dtuigtear do mhuintir na Gaeltachta a bheadh taithneamhach agus oiriúnach dóibh féin. Chun sin a bheith éifeachtach beidh sé riachtanach dul i gcomhairle, mar adúirt mé cheana, le muintir na Gaeltachta i ngach Gaeltacht. Tá claonadh ann a bheith sásta gach rud a thúirt do mhuintir na Gaeltachta ach an rud a lorgaíonn siad féin. Ceantar beag gach Gaeltacht agus má tugtar saoirse áitiúil dáiríre dóibh, is ar cheisteanna beaga áitiúla a bheidh a n-aire. Is toisc nach bhfuil iontaoibh acu as Áth Cliath chun na ceisteanna beaga sin a riaradh go cneasta atá féin—riar uathu—Gluaiseacht Chearta Sibhialta na Gaeltachta. Is chun gur futhu féin a bheadh an bhreith scoil Bhéal an Dorais a dhúnadh nó a chaomhnú atá féin-riar uathu toisc go bhfuil sé de dhánaíocht iontu a cheapadh gurab iad féin is fearr a thuigeann tábhacht na scoile sin ina saol féin. Is dóigh leo gur mór an grá agus an dílseacht don teanga a labhair siad le sinsearacht ná an grá agus an dílseacht atá ag státseirbhísígh nó fiú amháin ag Teachtaí mar mé féin iontu féin agus ina bpáistí agus aonadaí staitisticiúla. Tá tábhacht an-mhór le staitistic sa cheist seo go léir.
Má tugtar radio dóibh caithfidh a stiúradh bheith futhu ina iomlán agus cuirim an cheist seo ar an Rúnaí Parlaiminte: an amhlaidh a bheidh sé? An mbeidh Radio na Gaeltachta faoi chumhacht mhuintir na Gaeltachta? Muna fíor é sin, an Radio na Gaeltachta a bheidh ann ar chor ar bith nó radio eile de chuid Átha Cliath? Má tugtar féin—riaradh dóibh caithfidh cumhacht dáiríre gabháil leis a fhéachfaidh chuige nach dtarlóidh leithéid scoil Dhún Chaoin arís, cumhacht a thabharfaidh scoil thar n-ais do mhuintir Dhún Chaoin. Caithfidh na tabhartaisí seo a bheith ionnrac. Ní h-aon mhaith dallamullog a chur ar dhaoine. Má tá an Rúnaí Parlaiminte dáiríre, caithfidh sé bheith sásta toil na Gaeltachta a chur abhaile ar na Ranna eile Stáit. Sin í an cheist go h-iomlán.
That is the question: can the Minister for the Gaeltacht impose the will of the Gaeltacht in relation to the Gaeltacht on the rest of the Government, or is he really a sort of vestigial appendix of an old affection for the Irish language which is slowly disappearing? If the answer to that is "No", that the Government's interest in the Gaeltacht is serious, that they intend to take a genuinely dynamic new approach, then I hope that when we next come to discuss the question of the Gaeltacht in this House, there will be at least one member present of that Government which regards the Irish language as one of the two most important questions for our nation.