Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dublin City Council says no English allowed

Dublin City Council recently published the Draft Dublin City Development Plan, 2011-2017. It includes this:
17.9.2 Names of Residential Estates
All new street and development names shall reflect local historical, heritage or cultural associations and the basic generic description (i.e. Court, Quay, Road etc.) must be appropriate. The Planning Authority will approve the naming of residential developments in order to avoid confusion in regard to similar names in other locations. Street signs must be bilingual, and all house numbers must be visible. Developers shall agree estate names with the Planning Authority prior to the commencement of development. Such estate names shall be in the Irish language only and shall reflect the history and topography of the area in which they are located. The names of public roads shall be in the Irish language only.
The pieces I've emphasised show that Dublin City Council is abandoning bilingual placenames and will accept Irish language placenames only.

Why they persist in promoting these misty-eyed Celtic fantasies about the place of the Irish language is baffling.

Dublin County has a population of about 1,200,000, Dublin City a population of about 506,000. Of those aged over 3 years, 411,000 of the county population (37.2%) and 159,000 of the city population (33.8%) are classified as having the ability to speak Irish. Bear in mind that the county population includes that of the city. Dublin City has the lowest percentage of Irish speakers of any county council area in the country. Bear in mind also that this is a measure of those who claim an ability to speak Irish: there is no verification of any actual ability to use the language.

When one looks at studies into the actual use of the language in everyday life the numbers fall rapidly, even more so when one excludes those who use the language only in an educational context (so those who, for example, go to an Irish-language school but who don't otherwise actually use the language).

The authors (Borooah, Dineen, and Lynch) of a March 2009 study entitled "Linguistic Elitism and Gender in the Irish Labour Market: How much Advantage is there to Workers in Ireland Speaking Irish and being Male? Evidence from the 2006 Census" made this observation (p. 4):
if one regards a "living language" as one which is used daily, in a non-institutional setting, then Irish is a living language for less than one in twenty of Irish speakers in Ireland and a living language for one in forty of Ireland's population.
In fact, they estimate that only 15% of daily Irish speakers use it as a "living language". That 85% of daily Irish speakers use it only in an educational institution tells you a great deal about the artificial nature of much Irish language use. It is used because there is some constructed institutional benefit or requirement. Gardaí, solicitors, barristers, librarians, teachers and other public servants are (or were) all required to jump through a largely artificial Irish language hoop regardless of whether they are ever likely to need the language in the course of actually doing their jobs. Of course, people who would otherwise have made excellent Gardaí or teachers but who couldn't jump through the hoop never get to do that excellent job. The fact that Gardaí are no longer required to have an ability to use Irish rather gives the lie to the notion that it is a necessity for the job and exposes the artificiality of the requirement.

Taking that figure of 15% as a rough estimate, and beginning with the figures of 1,187,176 (for Dublin County's 2006 population) and 410,669 (the number in Dublin County in 2006, aged over 3 years, who have a self-declared ability to use Irish) we can make a rough estimate that up to about 61,600 people in Dublin County use Irish on a daily basis as a "living language". That represents about 5.19% of the overall population of the county. Looked at on a city level, the numbers are 23,800 "living language" speakers representing 4.85% of the total population.

So why institute a policy that ignores the language reality of 95% of the city's population (and 5% is generous - use the one-in-forty and it drops to 2.5%)? One has to conclude that it is politically motivated and yet another part of the Republican greenwashing of Irish cultural and public life. It's window-dressing at best, and part of a widespread and patronising waste of money at worst.

It is a fact that we are not an Irish-speaking nation and we never will be. This policy is another indication of the denial of that reality that persists in local and national government. There is a role for the Irish language in modern Irish culture and the language ought to be preserved and encouraged, but this sort of tokenistic condescension doesn't help.

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