Building on the Positive – Building on the Local
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams MP MLA this morning opened a major conference in St. Mary's University College, Falls Road, in support of An Ceathrú Gaeltachta - a Gaeltacht Quarter, in west Belfast.
The following is the text of Mr. Adams address:
Tá mé lán sásta bheith i mo sheasamh anseo ag labhairt libh ag an chomhdáil seo, socraithe i lár An Cheathrún Gaeltachta, agus taobh istigh den ollscoill galánta seo.
Tá obair iontach déanta ag lucht na Gaeilge sa chathair seo, sa scolaíocht agus sa ghnáth saol. 'Bualadh bos mór tuillte acu.
I am very honoured to have been asked to open this conference.
I want to welcome you all here today.
I want to commend all of those who have been involved in putting this conference together.
It is a very important initiative for west Belfast and also this City.
An Ceathrú Gaeltachta has its roots in the west Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force report.
But in reality its origins go back further than that.
There has always been an Irish Language community in Belfast.
Like the rest of the island it suffered as a result of British colonial policy.
This involved a deliberate strategy to destroy the language and culture.
Why? Because the language and culture of any society is part of what helps define its uniqueness.
Cultural colonialism decreed that any social or political discourse in Ireland must be in English.
A cruel and brutal process targeted all things Irish.
Chreid said dá dtiocfadh leo an teanga agus an chultúr ghaelach a scrios go mbeadh sé níos fusa dóibh smacht a fháil ar meon muintir na hÉireann.
Níor éirigh leo na céadta bliain ó shin- ní éireoidh leo go deo.
By the nineteenth century, while other elements of the Gaelic way of life persisted in one form or another the language had become the language of the poor, mainly in rural and marginal regions.
In the mid-19th century, a combination of factors around the Great Hunger and mass emigration and the school system all caused what Seán de Fréine named "The Great Silence", when a generation stopped speaking the language and the next generation lost the language base from which to pass their knowledge on.
It would take almost another fifty years before the academics and intellectuals would begin the revival and before the association between Irish and poverty would be broken down.
The revival movement would eventually become the national independence movement.
But despite all the promise and potential of the mass movement for independence partition meant further suppression of all things Irish in the north.
While Irish would eventually become officially recognised as the first language in the Twenty-Six Counties, the task of revival was never properly tackled.
In truth languages die out when fewer new speakers replace those of previous generations.
Irish used to be in that category, but today interest in the Irish language is growing and many young people north and south want to speak Irish.
The census figures published in 2004 record that there are 1.5 million Irish speakers in the Twenty-Six Counties, an increase on the 1.43 million Irish speakers identified in 1996.
The last census in the Six Counties recorded Irish language speakers at 23 per cent in West Belfast and 16 per cent in Derry.
Is comhartha mór dóchais é seo dúinn. Tá muid bródúil as.
Tomorrow I will have the great honour of formally opening Coláiste Feirste, just a few hundred yards from here.
It was founded in 1991 with nine pupils, in makeshift rooms. The conditions for staff and pupils were appalling.
Eventually it moved from An Chultúrlann across the street to what had been Our Lady's Hospital, or nursing home.
Today, it is an ultra modern secondary school with over 600 pupils.
Here in St. Mary's University College new teachers are being trained for the Irish medium schools that are springing up all across the north.
All of this is a long way from the hardships of the 19th century, or indeed of the 1970s when activists and parents first established a Bunscoil on the Shaws Road.
They battled mightily against an education department and political establishment that saw its goal as primarily one of undermining the language and the school.
The Bunscoil was not the only target for this prejudice. Glór na Gael was one of the first victims of political vetting by the British government.
But against all the odds the families and pupils and teachers succeeded.
And out of their success and as a consequence of the renaissance in the Irish language fostered in the prisons by Bobby Sands and his comrades, interest in the Irish language is greater now in west Belfast than in generations.
In addition, the commitment of Martin McGuinness as Minister of Education, and currently by Caitríona Ruane, by acknowledging the rights and entitlements of Irish speakers, and properly resourcing Irish medium education, has made a significant contribution to the growth and strength of the language today.
In west Belfast, as well as Coláiste Feirste, there are now 8 Naiscoileanna and 8 Bunscoileanna - a remarkable achievement.
For those who wish it is possible in this constituency to do all your business through the medium of Irish in local shops, pubs and other places.
Out of all of this there is now a greater sense of belonging.
Tá sé nadúrtha anois sa phobal seo idir páistí agus daoine fásta a chluinsint ag labhairt le chéile as Gaeilge.
I mentioned the west Belfast and Greater Shankill Task Force. This was a response to the great problems of deprivation and disadvantage and poverty that exists within west Belfast.
Sinn Féin very consciously argued for a Task Force approach.
We believed that by bringing together the community, business, educators and the wide range of statutory agencies and government, that it would be possible to produce a joined up strategy capable of putting in place the resources necessary to raise the quality of peoples lives.
In essence our goal was to build on the positive aspects of west Belfast through our existing local skills, while encouraging inward investment and regeneration.
Local examples of this innovation already existed. For example the West Belfast Taxi Association - the Black Taxis - is an example of local people coming together in difficult circumstances, identifying a community need and then having the courage and determination to build a transport system that now employs over 250 men and women.
The Task Force report was published in February 2002 and contained over 150 recommendations. It contained radical and innovative proposals, including the Development of a Cultural/ Gaeltacht Quarter.
The model of a Cultural Cluster/Gaeltacht Quarter as an economic catalyst was first proposed by Sinn Fein in 1996.
The Task Force report recognised that "there are a myriad of Irish language projects as well as arts, crafts and music initiatives which can be nurtured and developed to provide real job opportunities."
It acknowledged that the "Irish language is a valuable cultural and immense economic asset of west Belfast and of Belfast …" and that there is a "strong interrelationship between the creativity of cultural communities and the process of urban renewal, that vibrant cultural activities act as an economic driver and stimulus and that this cultural contribution needs greater policy recognition."
And the growth in the Irish language sector is set to continue. An Acht Gaeilge protecting the rights and entitlements of Irish speakers is inevitable and this too will speed up growth.
Tá lucht na Gaeilge i dteideal do na cearta céanna is atá ag daoine eile sa sochaí seo.
All of this lends weight to the Task Force report recommendation that a Gaeltacht Quarter Development Board should be established to develop the cultural cluster into a designated - An Ceathrú Gaeltachta.
The Dutton report was commissioned by several of the Assembly's departments and I want to commend Clive Dutton and his colleagues for an excellent report.
Its genius is summed up in Clive's own words, "An extraordinary opportunity, borne of extraordinary circumstances, demands an extraordinary approach."
So, we now have the different strands coming together.
The need for sustained economic investment and development, and renewal; joining with the creative and vibrant Irish language community of west Belfast; and all within the context of a new and exciting political situation with enormous economic potential for future development.
Of course, turning this into reality will require the dedication and commitment of people in west Belfast and of the Executive, and of the government departments that sponsored the Dutton report - the Department of Culture Arts and Leisure; the Department for Social Development and the Department of Enterprise, Trade and Investment.
So, An Ceathrú Gaeltachta is more than some small 'niche' project linked to a tiny local market.
It has real potential to become a major catalyst for significant regeneration and revitalisation in west Belfast.
The cluster of education; tourism; crafts, and music projects; and the existence of Raidió Fáilte and Lá Nua, as well as of business and employment opportunities, and conflict resolution projects, is unique.
Our task is to build on the positives by expanding our local initiatives, and working in partnership with investors and government, to expand on the possibilities for growth and regeneration that now exist.
The next step must be the establishment of an urban Regeneration Company to manage and plan for An Ceathrú Gaeltachta.
A range of other strategic and structural proposals have been put forward through the Dutton report, as well as from the shadow Development Board. These need acted upon as well.
An Ceathrú Gaeltachta is an exciting, innovative and pioneering concept.
It can make a genuine and essential difference in regeneration terms for west Belfast, as well as improve the quality of life of the citizens who live here.
It is about building on the local. I wish you well and commend the organisers of today's conference.
I commend everyone who has done anything to keep Gaelige alive here in the second largest City on this island.
Well done to you all and good luck in all that you do.
Mar is gnáth, tá a lán obair le déanamh amach anseo- mar sin ar aghaidh linn le chéile.
Go raibh míle maith agaibh.