Monday, June 20, 2005

The Irish Times and the Irish Language

There's a lot of huffing and puffing in today's Irish Times about the Irish language, the money we (meaning the State, of course) spend on the Irish language, and the money we plan to spend on the Irish language in the future.

In an editorial that so reeks of political correctness that An Spailpín Fánach will bet cash money that it can only have been written by the High Priest of D'Olier Street, Fintan O'Toole (see the reference to "cultural totems"? If that's not the spoor of Toolers, ithfidh mé mo cháibín), the Irish Times condemns the further spending of cash on the language. The first two paragraphs damn with faint praise; the final three drive the steel home. "Great damage was done to the cause of Irish in previous decades with many children leaving education harbouring something close to a hatred for the language. The approach of Minister for the Gaeltacht Éamon Ó Cuív, those measures already taken and many more to follow, risk causing further alienation." It certainly will call further alienation, with the IT stirring the pot for all it's worth.

The editorial also makes reference to a story on the front page that's clucking about the cost of translating Government bodies' advertising into Irish. Aer Lingus has a good whine about it, as Aer Lingus likes to do, with the Aer Lingus spokesman bitching that the cost was "not a small amount of money." Considering that the Times were not only running the story but editorialising about it as well you'd think they'd have squeezed a better quote out of Aer Lingus than "not a small amount of money" - the Cromwell comparison is always popular - but maybe they couldn't because the whole basis of the story is utterly spurious anyway.

For the first time in An Spailpín's lifetime, the State is doing more than just paying lipservice to the language. It certainly will cost money but so does everything else. The question is if it'll cost too much money, which is a question that any public or private venture has to answer. Naturally it is not one that the Irish Times bothers to ask, simply assuming that any spending on Irish is too much. We can only hope that the guy that writes the Teanga Bheo section of the paper on Wednesdays keeps his CV updated.

The editorial remarks that "promoting the language, no more than any other aspect of the State's governance, should not be conducted without regard to cost or, apparently, any analysis of the likely benefit," implying that nobody has done there sums at all, without providing any evidence that this is the case. Which is profoundly lazy and rather mischevious of a paper of record, by any reckoning.

The only figures between the two pieces concerning the language are in the Liam Reid piece, which reports that the Department of Social and Family Affairs has set aside €500,000 to cover its obligations under the act, and is one of twenty-five bodies that will have to do so. Now, let's do some sums.

If we take the 2003 Finance Accounts as the most recent figure available to us, they tell us that in 2003 the State hauled in €32,102,931,000 in revenue from taxes. So, if twenty-five public bodies are going to spend half a mil each on Gaeilge, that's a full bill of twelve and a half million Euro to be paid. Which is 0.0004% of the Government's income from tax.

Therefore, if my figures are correct, for the Irish Times to kick up about that sort of expenditure would be the equivalent of a besotted suitor spending five hundred sheets on a flight to Paris this weekend with his beloved, and then turning around and telling your wan that no, he would not buy her a box of matches at the airport. The lady is not impressed, and neither should we be by such shoddy work in what is an essential debate about who we are as a people, and, even more importantly, who we want to be.