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Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh - Culture agus an Ghaeilge

9 September, 2011

In these straightened times we often hear discussions of ‘wealth’, and who possesses wealth, and how it should be taxed etc. Important debates, certainly, and as Republicans there is an onus upon us to work towards an equal distribution of economic wealth. However, there is also an onus upon us to ensure the protection and cultivation of others forms of wealth, and there are many forms of wealth, which the people certainly value, even if the government do not.

The people value our rich linguistic heritage. Recent decades has seen a sustained increase in Irish speakers, and young people entering Irish medium education.
The language is now vibrant and resurgent, and possesses the impression of modernity and life due to its increased media profile, and the good work of those involved in the Irish Media sector.

There is tremendous regard for the language among the people, not least among those for whom Irish is their primary language of choice, which is a group which continues to grow, and in which I include myself and my family.

Its benefits in terms of education, culture and enterprise are widely acknowledged, and it is a tremendous asset in terms of tourism, one which we have yet to fully exploit. In that context it beggars belief that such an obvious asset is not only underexploited and under supported, but if wilfully undermined.

In the north, even the idea of an Irish Language Act or an Irish Language Strategy appears to be anathema to political unionism, despite the tens of thousands of Irish speakers living in the six counties.

We have seen in recent months a UUP councillor in Armagh stating that the only place Irish would take us to is back to the bog.

In the south we have a Taoiseach who has in the past argued for the ending of compulsory Irish for the leaving cert.

His government appears to be embarking upon a campaign of undermining Irish, and the rights of Irish speaking citizens.

The hard won language rights in the Official Languages act , are being hollowed out, the government has brought forward proposals to reform Údarás na Gaeltachta, effectively bringing about the emasculation of the Údarás, not to mention the near total non-implementation of the 20 years strategy.

The proposals regarding the Údarás are an insult to the people of the Gaeltacht. It is anti-democratic not to allow gaeltacht residents to vote for the Údarás, for their representatives. Equally the Údarás’ Enterprise functions, are essential. If we want to protect and develop Gaeltachtaí, and to develop their huge contribution to the language, then it is essential that jobs are created to keep people in the Gaeltachtaí, and it’s unlikely than Enterprise Ireland will show the same level of care and attention to creating and maintaining jobs as the Údarás does.

While the language hasn’t been as strong for many years, nonetheless, it needs support assistance and resources to protect and develop upon those advances. It is part of the wealth of the people, of our cultural wealth, and the neglect of the language is to some impoverishment of the lives of the people.

Our linguistic wealth also includes our unique relationship with the English language. We have put our own stamp on English, and have produced a uniquely Irish literature, and language. Indeed the contributions that Irish writers have made to the written word both in Irish and in English has been recognised by the naming of Dublin as a UNESCO international City of literature.

We must ensure that culture is accessible to all. Whether it be fine art, literature, Theatre, Film, or otherwise. We must ensure that funding is readily available to arts in the community. Art’s value is not merely in terms of full time artists or theatre groups though there can be no doubt but that we are well served by many of our artists who contribute significantly to the cultural life of the Nation. But art has a value aside from that the enjoyment an audience gains from a good production.

It has a holistic value, it is valuable in terms of what the people involved gain from it, for example the value within educational theatre, or the role that art plays in human development within the youth arts and youth theatre sector. Indeed, the pride which a local community takes in their cultural events, whether that be a festival, or a production is enormous, and is a value quite aside from the enjoyment of it itself.

We must ensure that grassroots arts are supported, in terms of youth theatre, and educational arts, and art in Local communities. Art cannot belong to elite. It belongs to the people, and we must ensure that funding mechanisms, and resources reflect that reality, and that art and culture is easily accessible for ordinary people.

May I take this opportunity to wish our Minister for Arts Culture and Leisure, Caral Ní Chuilin, the very best of luck in her new role. Her commitment to Republican ideals will stand her in good stead, as she seeks to open up our cultural wealth to all on this Island, regardless of background or of class.

She faces significant challenges, in particular as regards issues related to Irish, however, I am certain she is equal to the challenge, and I am certain that she will be well supported in her work.

Comrade’s I emphasise the word wealth to impress on you an important point. As Republicans we must seek not only the material enrichment of the people, but also the cultural and spiritual enrichment of the people. Our vision for Irish society must not be focused solely on the economic advancement of the state, important as that may be, it must be one which provides for all aspects of the welfare and all the needs of the people.

Therefore we must act as strong advocates of the importance of the arts and of culture, including the language. A republic without a strong culture at the heart of society is not worthy of the name. Culture belongs to the people. Let’s ensure it remains that way.

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