Developing a campaigning culture – following the Welsh example

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It was during a recent research visit to Wales with a group of Belfast language activists that I got a taste of the campaigning culture developed by our Celtic cousins. The echoes of history could be felt strongly when we were a few miles outside the former Frongoch internment camp in the north of the country, a fateful place in Irish history both politically and linguistically. A place where the independence movement nested after the Easter Rising in 1916. We visited the site where the camp stood and met the local councillor and other who worked enthusiastically to place a commemorative plaque there. They told us the stories of the difficult campaign they fought in the 60s and 70s to achieve basic rights for Welsh speakers through an inspirational group called Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg.

This Welsh language pressure group, which translates as the Welsh Language Society, was formed in the year 1962, and their activist are celebrating the half-century of its existence this year. A famous lecture by the well-known activist Saunders Lewis, entitled Tynged yr iaith (The fate of the language) inspired the foundation of the group.

The first campaigns emphasised the official status of the language when they demanded tax returns, Welsh-medium schools, election forms, post office

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signs, birth certificates etc. They were organised as local subgroups that operated as a national movement on the various campaigns. This campaigning had a massive impact and the first Welsh Language Act was introduced in 1967. This legislation was weak, however, and the intense campaigning continued. At the start of the seventies, English-only road signs were destroyed all over the country until bilingual signs were erected in 1972.

Cymdeithas Yr Iaith believed in non-violent, direct action from the beginning and more than a thousand people ended up in front of the courts for their part in the various campaigns, with many of them ending up in prison. They are the largest protest group in British history since the Suffragettes. Their campaign for a Welsh-language radio station in the early seventies succeeded when Radio Cymru came on the air in 1977. That said, when the Conservative government in England refused to keep their election promise to establish an independent Welsh-language television channel, a fierce campaign ensued against their change of heart. Protestors refused to buy a TV licence, other activists climbed TV masts and invaded television studios. Some of them were put in prison and one of the prisoners went on hunger strike. The independent Welsh-language television S4C was founded in the year 1982.

Cymdeithas Yr Iaith continues to campaign vigorously, 50 years on, although a strong Language Act was introduced in 1992 and the Welsh Assembly was established in 1999. Presently, they have many campaigns underway to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the movement. They are doing a bus tour around the country raising awareness of the decline of the Welsh language as a community language in Welsh-speaking areas; they are demanding a stronger Welsh Language Act to put more pressure on the private and voluntary sector to develop Welsh language policies; they recently established a new online TV channel to bring attention to funding cuts to S4C and to pressure Westminster to devolve broadcasting powers to the Assembly.

Activists in Wales understand that language rights are human rights that cannot be curtailed by the existing political situation in any period. They understand that it is right and just to break the law if it discriminates against a person’s rights and if the state refuses equality of treatment. This is the way to apply pressure and make a major issue of blatant discrimination. The question of the language and the rights of its speakers supersedes the interests of any state or political class. It’s high time for Irish speakers to learn lessons from our Celtic cousins.

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh

Cultúr feachtasaíochta le forbairt- Sampla na Breataine Bige le leanúint

Is le linn turas staidéir chuig an Bhreatain Bheag ar na mallaibh le baicle díograiseoirí teanga Feirsteacha a fuair mé blaiseadh ar an chultúr feachtasaíochta a d’fhorbair ár gcol ceathracha Ceilteacha. Bhí macallaí na staire le mothú go láidir agus muid cúpla míle taobh amuigh den iarchampa géibheann Frongoch i dtuaisceart na tíre. Áit chinniúnach i stair na hÉireann ar bhonn polaitiúil agus teanga araon. Áit ar néadaigh an ghluaiseacht neamhspléachais i ndiaidh Éirí Amach na Cásca in 1916. Thug muid cuairt ar an suíomh ina raibh an campa agus bhuail muid leis an chomhairleoir áitiúil agus daoine eile a d’oibrigh go díograiseach le leac chuimhneacháin a chur ann. D’inis siad na scéaltaí dúinn faoin fheachtas crua a bhí acu sna 60í agus sna 70í le bunchearta a bhaint amach do lucht labhartha na Breatnaise le heagras iontach darb ainm, Cymdeithas Yr Iaith Gymraeg.

Bunaíodh an brúghrúpa Breatnaise seo, a aistrítear mar Cumann Teanga na Breataine Bige, thiar sa bhliain 1962, agus tá na díograiseoirí s’acu ag ceiliúradh leathchéad bliain ar an fhód i mbliana. Spreag léacht cháiliúil a thug an gníomhaí iomráiteach, Saunders Lewis, dar téideal, Tynged yr iaith (Cinniúint na Teanga),

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Chuir na chéad feachtas béim ar stádas oifigiúil na teanga agus iad ag éileamh tuairisceáin cánach, scoileanna Breatnaise, foirmeacha toghcháin, comharthaí oifig an phoist, teastais dáta breithe srl. Eagraíodh iad mar fho-ghasraí áitiúla a d’fheidhmigh mar ghluaiseacht náisiúnta ar na feachtais éagsúla. Bhí tionchar ag an bhrú seo agus cuireadh an chéad Acht Breatnaise i bhfeidhm in 1967. Reachtaíocht lag a bhí ann, áfach, agus lean an fheachtasaíocht go tréan. Ag tús na seachtóidí, rinneadh léirscrios ar chomharthaí bóthair aonteangacha Béarla ar fud na tíre go dtí gur cuireadh comharthaí dátheangacha in airde in 1972.

Chreid Cymdeithas yr Iaith ón tús sa ghníomh díreach, neamhfhoréigneach agus chríochnaigh níos mó ná míle duine os comhair na cúirte mar gheall ar pháirt s’acu sna feachtais éagsúla, cuid mhaith acu sin ag críochnú i ngéibheann. Tá siad ar an ghrúpa agóide is mó i stair na Breataine ó bhí na Sufraigéidí ann. D’éirigh le feachtas s’acu ar son stáisiún raidió Breatnaise ag tús na seachtóidí le Radio Cymru ag teacht ar an saol in 1977. Mar sin féin, nuair a dhiúltaigh an Rialtas Coimeádach i Sasana, geallúint toghcháin s’acu a choinneáil agus caineál teilifíse neamhspléach Breatnaise a bhunú, bhláthaigh feachtas fíochmhar ina gcóinne an t-athrú intinne. Dhiúltaigh lucht agóide ceadúnais teilifíse a cheannach, chuaigh díograiseoirí eile ag dreapadóireacht ar chrann teilifíse agus ag déanamh ruathair agus ionsaí ar stiúideónna téilifíse. Cuireadh roinnt ach i bpríosúin agus chuaigh duine amháin de na príosúnaigh ar stailc ocrais. Bunaíodh an caineál teilifíse neamhspléach Breatnaise, S4C sa bhliain 1982.

Leanann Cymdeithas yr Iaith ag feachtasaíocht go díograiseach, 50 bliain níos faide anonn, bíodh is gur cuireadh Acht Teanga láidir i bhfeidhm in 1992 agus gur bunaíodh Feidhmeannas na Breataine Bige in 1999. I láthair na huaire, tá roinnt mhaith feachtas ar siúl acu chun comóradh 50 bliain a dhéanamh ar an ghluaiseacht. Tá siad ag deánamh camchuairte bus ar fud na tíre ag tógáil feasachta ar mheath na Breatnaise mar theanga pobail sna ceantair Breatnaise; tá siad ag éileamh Acht Breatnaise níos láidre chun tuilleadh brú a chur ar an earnáil phríobháideach agus dheonach polasaí Breatnaise a fhorbairt; bhunaigh siad cainéal teilifíse nua ar-líne le déanaí chun aird a dhíriú ar chiorruithe maoinithe do S4C agus brú a chur ar Westminster cumhachtaí craolacháin a aistriú chuig an Fheidhmeannas.

Tuigeann díograiseoirí na Breataine Bige gur cearta daonna iad cearta teanga nach féidir bheith faoi smacht ag an chomhthéacs pholaitiúil reatha in aon tréimhse ar bith. Tuigeann siad go bhfuil sé ceart agus cóir an dlí a bhriseadh má dhéanann sé idirdhealú ar chearta an duine agus má dhiúltaíonn an stát cothrom na féinne a thabhairt. Seo an bealach chun brú a chur agus mórcheist a dhéanamh as leatrom follasach. Sáraíonn ceist na teanga agus cearta a gcuid cainteoirí, mianta aon stát nó aicme pholaitiúil. Is mithid do Ghaeil, ceachtanna a fhoghlaim ónár gcol ceathracha Ceilteacha.

Feargal Mac Ionnrachtaigh

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