Cuireann Úachtaránacht na hÉireann ar an Aontas Eorpach deis faoi leith ar fáil don Rialtas an cás maidir le aitheantas don Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpach a bhrú ar an Choimisiún agus ballstáit eile an Chomhphobail. Tráthnóna amárach, má ghlacfaidh an Dáil leis an rún seo atá molta ag Páirtí an Lucht Oibre, Fine Gael agus an Comhaontas Glas, beidh lámh an Rialtais neartaithe i dtaca le aitheantas a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas.
Sa bhfoilseachán Dublin Opinion foilsíodh cartún uair amháin, pictiúir d’fhear ina shuí in oifig fhairsing bhreá agus faoin phictiúr bhí na focail “Bhí Gaeilge agam, now I have a big job”. Sin an dearcadh a bhí i bhfeidhm i 1972 agus sinn i mbun idirbheartaíocht ár mballraíocht sa Chomhphobal. Cé gur teanga náisiúnta na hÉireann í an Ghaeilge, de réir an Bhunreachta, agus gurbh í an phríomhtheanga oifigiúil, ní theanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpach í. Is teanga conartha san Aontas í, coincheap aisteach ísealchéimeach a chum Rialtas dúchasach, Rialtas Fhianna Fáil, sa mbliain 1972. Sé an Rialtas sin a chuaigh ar lorg an islithe chéanna agus is ar an Rialtas seo atá dualgas anois athrú céime a éileamh agus a bhaint amach.
I propose to approach this debate on the Irish language in a positive spirit, providing the Government with every opportunity to join with all on this side of the House in supporting the motion. In particular, I want to avoid some tendencies that have bedevilled too many political debates on the Irish language and language policy. One is a natural reaction to the perceived attitude of mind of a small minority of Gaeilgeoirí, a mixture of superiority tinged with some scorn for those who through no fault of their own do not, like them, have the language. There is a related factor that must also be avoided, a link that is sometimes, perhaps unfairly, made between sections of the Gaeilgeoir community and xenophobia, indeed to the physical force tradition, which most Irish people, including Gaeilgeoirí, now abhor as redundant.
Another factor is a legacy of British rule, deeply ingrained in our psyche, not least among some cainteoirí dúchais but not confined to native speakers and also to be found in other corners of the former empire, what in Australia and New Zealand is called “cultural cringe”. This is the belief that one’s own culture is backward and unsophisticated compared to other cultures, most particularly British culture, and it is an undoubted historical feature of Irish, Australian and New Zealand life. In our own country it takes the form of the west Brit outlook, and the attitude encapsulated in the Dublin Opinion cartoon, “Bhí gaeilge agam, now I have a big job.”
There is also a fourth factor that bedevils debate, the off-putting effect of the lip service paid by officialdom to the linguistic cause, in particular in the spheres of administrative action and politics, particularly as played by Fianna Fáil for all it is worth. As I shall shortly point out, our Judiciary has been, and continues to be, considerably more protective and respectful than has been the Executive power, as well as scathing of the official attitude and being sensible and balanced in its judgments.
We also need to avoid being hostage to certain "sacred cows", special pleading and the stale traditionalism of Myles's Bonaparte Ó Cúnasa's Corca Dorcha. We are dealing here with our history, including the role of the cultural revival in Irish national development. The revival was an essential element in an exercise of differentiating us from the English and binding us together as ‘Irish', creating a nation and a nationalism that would ultimately express itself in statehood. The cultural revival was very much a political project with a political ambition. While there were, of course, those who were principally cultural Nationalists, who largely eschewed the political side of things, in the round the cultural revival was a political force and very many of those who were politically active in the national cause were also engaged in or animated by, the cultural project, to whatever extent. The link between culture, nationality, statehood and language is there, evident in both the Constitutions that have ruled us since Independence, in Article 4 of the Saorstát Éireann Constitution and Article 8 of Bunreacht na hÉireann.
Today people generally, not just in Ireland, are sensitive about their identity. This is reflected in concerns about multiculturalism, perceived loss of sovereignty, globalisation, Americanisation and the like — they want a badge that identifies them as in whatever way ‘unique'. I have no problem with any of this in moderation. I am sympathetic towards it as long as it does not spill over into xenophobia, notions of superiority and so forth.
Detailed arguments have been advanced in support of the Government's request to have accorded to the Irish language the status of an official language of the European Union. The campaign group Stádas has set out some of these arguments. Stádas makes the critically relevant point that there is really no great issue here. Irish speakers have a right to have grievances addressed to the European Ombudsman dealt with in Irish, to petition the European Parliament in Irish and to correspond with the various institutions of the Union — the Council, the Commission and so on — in Irish. The treaties are also available in Irish — Irish is a treaty language. Irish is also an official language of the European Court of Justice. The big issue really relates to Community legislation, the directives and regulations that form part of the acquis communautaire, community law, and the publication of the Official Journal.
The intention behind this motion is that in the change in status being made, the Union would be responsible for producing future texts of Community legislation in Irish, with Ireland having responsibility for the legacy issue, which it arguably should be doing anyway in light of the Ó Beolain case, to which I shall return.
However useful on many aspects of detail its submission to the National Forum on Europe, from my own position of emphasising rights, history and culture, I find the Stádas presentation somewhat incomplete. In particular I am uncomfortable with the contention that this issue is in some measure about jobs for Gaeilgeoirí. This is not only about jobs, or even mainly about jobs, and if it were, it is a demand redolent of ‘Corca Dorcha' that I would find difficult to support.
In essence, the argument about the status of the Irish language in Europe and, I would also particularly emphasise, at home is to my mind about our Constitution, the constitutional rights of citizens, but also our own historic and indeed modern-day sense of ourselves as a people, our sense of what we are. Both of these aspects, our sense of ourselves and our history, and the constitutional status accorded to Irish are intimately interconnected. We also need to develop a sensible approach to how we can create a real bilingual society in Ireland and how to accommodate the languages of our new citizens in this new Ireland. We need to address our poor record in language teaching — the contribution of native Government has been to create one of the worst societies in terms of familiarity with other European languages, and it is not improving. In the now famous 2001 case of Ó Beoláin v. Fahy, Mr Justice Hardiman approvingly quoted the words of then Chief Justice Kennedy, in the 1934 case of O’Foghludha v. McClean, relating to Article 4 of the Saorstát constitution:
One of the distinguishing marks of a nation, in the sense of a distinct people (though not a necessary or universal mark) is the possession of a common national language. This nation of ours possessed that distinguishing characteristic in the Irish language. It was the common speech of every Irish man down to comparatively recent times, when it yielded before immense pressure, compulsion in the schools, social political and commercial forces.
He went on to remark:
The language position at the date of the enactment to the Constitution is so fresh in our memories as to need no statement but the importance of it here is for the interpretation of Article 4. The declaration by the Constitution that the National Language of the Saorstát is the Irish language does not mean that the Irish language is, or was at that historical moment, universally spoken by the people of the Saorstát, which would be untrue in fact, but it did mean that it is the historic distinctive speech of the Irish people, that it is to rank as such in the nation, and by implication that the State is bound to do everything within its sphere of action (as for instance in State-provided education) to establish and maintain it in its status as the national language and to recognise it for all official purposes as the national language.
The critical judicial conclusion is:
None of the organs of the State, legislative, executive, or judicial, may derogate from the pre-eminent status of the Irish language as the national language of the State without offending against the Constitutional provisions of Article 4 [of the Saorstát constitution].
Mr. Justice Hardiman expressed the belief that "the implication into the text of the 1922 Constitution of a binding obligation on the State in relation to the language" was equally appropriate to the construction of Article 8 of our current Constitution. Importantly, he further concurred with the words of Mr Justice O'Hanlon in a 1988 judgment that: "— the provisions of Article 8 of Bunreacht na hÉireann are stronger still in terms of giving recognition to the Irish language than was Article 4 of the Free State Constitution".
Unless and until, if ever, the people decide to change the provisions of Article 8, such as for example along lines recommended in 1996 by the constitutional review group, or the Oireachtas legislates in line with the provisions of Article 8.3 of the Constitution, the Irish language has the status of being the national language and the first official language and our Judiciary has in this context given us some understanding of what this means administratively and in our courts of justice.
No doubt the courts have not had their final say on these matters, not least in the wake of Ó Beoláin and now also that we have adopted the Official Languages Act 2003 and, with that enactment, the establishment of the position of An Coimisinéir Teanga and the imposition of various statutory duties on public bodies in respect of the language. We are at least formally developing an ever more explicit bilingualism in respect of the domestic life of the State, although we have yet to see whether there is more to this than formal concession to what most Ministers probably regard cynically as the whimsical folly of the Minister for Rural Community and Gaeltacht Affairs, Deputy Ó Cuív, and have not the remotest intention of funding. I suspect the Minister knows this to be the case.
The current policy of the Government in respect of the status in Europe of the Irish language has, in the circumstances appropriately, been given to the Minister, Deputy Ó Cuív to enunciate. It is best captured by the following hollow, miserable formulation by the Minister when speaking last December:
Bímid i gcónaí ag iarraidh deis chuí a fháil chun an teanga a chur chun cinn san Aontas Eorpach. Mar shampla, bainfidh an láithreán ghréasáin spesialta a bhéas ann don Uachtaránacht feidhm fhorleathan as an dteanga i rith na sé mhí seo chugainn.
As befits the great party of tokenism and cultural cringe that is Fianna Fáil, this is a fine formulation indeed. It is seoinínism through and through.
Mar a mhíníonn Stádas, níl an oiread sin i gceist sa chás seo muna bhfuil an meon seoiníneach san áireamh. Is go hiomlán faoin Rialtas é socrú a dhéanamh go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina teanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais. Mar atá raite, níl aon idirbheartaíocht i gceist, seachas faoin gclár ama b'fhéidir. Níl i gceist ach go gcuirfeadh an Rialtas in iúl don Choimisiún gurbh mhian le hÉirinn go mbeadh an Ghaeilge ina theanga oifigiúil agus go gcuirfeadh an Coimisiún na leasuithe cuíthe ar aghaidh go dtí Comhairle an Aontais Eorpaigh, agus ghlacfaí leis an athrú d'aon ghuth.
Níl le rá agam anois ach, mar a ghuíonn an phríomhaoire go minic anseo, "Molaim an rún".