Saturday, February 15, 2014

The circus of rights featuring Irish speakers and emigrant voting.


The Irish media circus features performers pontificating on gay marriage rights while Papist clowns retaliate by shrieking about natural rights, religious rights and traditional marriage rights. Behind the public circus one can find side shows featuring speakers with trained vocal cords bellowing slogans defending traveler rights or faith school rights or immigration rights. All this when we haven't yet swabbed the collective self-righteous bile from the abortion and pro-life rights circus that occupied the square a few months earlier. And now the Irish language rights movement are joining under a tent called  'Lá Mór na Gaeilge'.

Lá Mór na Gaeilge is primarily a protest march to draw attention to the plight of Irish speakers who cannot access state services in Irish. Officially Irish is the first language of the state and all Irish citizens have the constitutional right to deal with the state in their own language. However in reality Irish is not widely spoken and most public servants are not bilingual. This has caused several high profile cases like the gentleman who refused to communicate with a guard in English and was subsequently arrested until a translator arrived. The case resulted in the gardai being issued with a laminated sheet of Irish phrases. 

A catholic apologist in action.
My experience with Irish language evangelists is largely negative. They hold the usual romantic position of language being the lifeblood of the collective national organism, supplying it with a sense of identity, meaning, even perception and modes of thought. Rejecting the language is a form of national and historical betrayal which results in alienation, individualization and lose of identity. Irish is 'our' language and heritage, while English is the language of our colonial oppressors who waged a 800 year campaign to anglicize the country and eradicate the native tongue. 

The problem is the unreality of claiming Irish as our language. I do not speak Irish; no-one in my family has spoken Irish for at least four generations. None of my friends speak the language. I have never even met an Irish man who spoke more than a few words. So outside of romantic nationalism, there are no grounds for claiming Irish is my language or my heritage. The link was broken generations ago. I cannot be alienated from a culture which exists in small localized pockets of the country. 

However the current state stance on Irish is clearly ludicrous. It is our first language, but few speak it. Voters support promoting the language, but few seem willing to learn. Irish is mandatory for school children, but adults soon forget. The way forward is a national referendum on removing Irish as our official first language. Should the referendum be defeated, Irish speakers should get their bilingual state services and citizens should stop being hypocrites by actually learning the language they claim to value. 

Rural and isolated Irish speaking communities have a more serious problem than suppression of their language rights. Such areas have limited employment opportunities so 18-30 year old's are choosing emigration. 

Which brings me neatly to the next circus act claiming yet more rights. This time it's a group called We're Coming Back fighting for voting rights for Irish emigrates. I don't understand this one. If an individual doesn't live in a country and therefore doesn't share the collective consequences of democratic decision making, why should he/she expect to influence the democratic process of that country? If I move out of a house, I cannot expect the people who remain to care about my opinion.

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