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De-politicisation’- New Northern Ireland ‘hijacks’ the Irish language

‘You will never make colonialism blush for shame by spreading little-known cultural treasures under its eyes.’

Frantz Fanon.

Few analysts in language, politics and sociology would query Noam Chomsky’s view that ‘questions of language are always questions of power’. Therefore language is inextricably bound with politics. This connection becomes considerably marked in the context of colonialism, where the subjugation of native cultures is both a means and an ends to colonial invasion. Therefore, language decline never occurs in communities of power, and privilege, but rather to the dispossessed and disempowered. Moreover, this linguistic decline does not happen in isolation from socio-cultural and socio-economic conquest but always forms part of a wider process of social, cultural and political displacement often involving overt discrimination and suppression. Nowhere was this process more prevalent than in Ireland where violent colonisation culminating in the imposition of the British national schools system and the catastrophe of Great Hunger in the mid nineteenth century saw cultural decline in Ireland occur at a breakneck speed unparalleled in European history.

In these circumstances, any attempt to revive the declining culture or to ‘decolonise’ is an overtly political venture. InIreland, the formation of the GAA in 1884 and the Gaelic League in 1893 signalled the beginning of cultural and political decolonisation. Pádraig Pearse would later say that, ‘when the Gaelic League was formed, the Irish revolution began’, a case proven by the Easter Rising of 1916 and subsequent revolutionary period thereafter. Thus Gaelic League members were arrested and jailed by the British state inIreland. Any attempt to revive the language was viewed as a threat to British cultural dominance. The outworking of this cultural colonisation was to be highlighted when the Northern Ireland was founded through partition in 1920. Outright hostility and legislative persecution was the order of the day as the language and its activists were branded ‘avowed enemies’ of the Orange state. Totally alienated from the ‘one-party state’, language promotion was practised in the ‘hidden Ulster’ of the Ardscoil and the Cluain Ard where it managed to survive against all the odds. From these humble seeds, came the revolutionary self-help project of Gaeltacht Bhóthar Seoighe that spawned the birth of Gaelscoileanna and the contemporary Irish language revival in the North of Ireland. This initiative would flourish in the transformational post Hunger Strike period in the early 1980’s, when the language was imbued with notions of reviving identity and empowering communities under siege.

It was in this context that the British government and NIO devised a divisive strategy to incorporate the language into the discourse of the ‘two traditions in Northern Ireland’ by consciously isolating radical language initiatives. At the time, the NIO divided the Irish language movement by providing financial assitance to a cross-community Irish language initiative named the Ultach Trust, set up in 1989 after the groundwork had been laid by the Cultural Traditions Group. This strategy sought to promote ‘respectable Gaeilgeoirí’ at the expense of revivalist projects in republicans areas. The NIO discourse of ‘depoliticisation’ was born. In August 1990, West Belfast Irish language community organisation, Glór na nGael, had its funding withdrawn under the NIO policy of ‘political vetting’. Hitting nursery schools hardest, this state attack was only reversed after a national and international campaign. The aim of ‘depolicisation’ was to portray the Irish language movement as sectarian and, by association, blame state discriminatory practices against it as a consequence of its own links with nationalism and republicanism.

Fast-forward to the post-peace process era and the Good Friday Agreement promised to ‘faciliate and encourage’ the language. Despite much bottom-up inspired progress, Irish speakers remain victims of fundamental discrimination and thus second class citizens in every manifestation. Without legal protection, Irish speakers in the 6 counties are the anomaly of minoritised language speakers on these islands. According to Language expert Fernand de Varennes, the right and opportunity to ‘learn and use’ your native language ‘flows from a fundamental right and is not some special concession or privileged treatment. Simply put, it is the right to be treated equally without discrimination, to which everyone is entitled.’ From 2006 till the present, the NIO and its cultural department DCAL have continually utilised the ‘de-politicisation’ trump card to obstruct the compelling human rights argument for an Irish language act in the North of Ireland.

In DCAL’s 2007 consultation document on an Irish language act it openly stated, that the Irish language in the North was ‘controversial’ because unionists held ‘genuine fears and concerns’ about ‘the erosion of their British identity’. Thus, the classic British colonial rationale endorsed fundamentally discriminatory views by describing them as ‘genuine fears’ as a means of justifying the denial of rights to Irish speakers. Furthermore, this view and the NIO strategy of ‘de-politicisation’ gave credence to the mythical monolingual view that the granting or demand of minority rights somehow impinges on the rights of the majority. The reality is that it is not the demand for rights that renders minoritised languages ‘controversial’ or ‘political’ but their continued denial by governments and states like the British one in Ireland.

This process reflects a global phenomenon. Colonialism and globalisation have imposed a hierarchy of powerful languages that mirror the unequal power relations on the planet. Therefore, English Linguistic Imperialism’ or ‘Linguicide’ as it is known, aims to maintain and perpetuate social, economic, political and cultural inequalities between English and minoritised languages and their respective speakers. This is as an unashamedly political project that shapes language decline the world over. Experts predict that 90% of the world’s languages or more precisely 5,400 out of six thousand languages will be either lost or forced into the final stages of decline this century. What each particular case has in common is its contact with a more powerful majority language whose dominance is usually defined by its superior political, cultural or socio-economic power. The view that the fight back against this relentless wave of Anglo-American cultural domination can be anything other than a political fight is not based in reality. Moreover, depoliticised ‘culturalism’, where the ‘cupla focal’ can be shared equally by all is consciously imposed by linguistic imperialists to obscure unequal power relations, limit the scope of minoritised language revivals and permanently obstruct their growth.

Equality for Irish speakers and the successful revival of our language can only be achieved through overtly political campaigning and through organising for change amongst communities. This is not to say that the language should be subject to destructive party politics. If anything, the Irish language community must retain its independence and radicalism through setting its own agenda based on its own needs. DCAL’s latest ‘de-politicisation’ PR stunt, ‘Líofa 2015’, which saw no substantial resources being allocated to the language by a department with a statutory obligation to do so, is the latest example of the New Northern Ireland trying to hijack and divide our language movement by imposing its own terms of reference on how we promote the language. This initiative is merely a symbolic move in the power game that sees powerful states purporting the myth that they are liberal and fair towards minority languages. The continued denial of equality for minoritised cultures and languages means they will continue to play a central part in political disputes throughout the world. The Irish language is no different and its future will only be ensured by bottom-up national revivalist projects of substance that recognise to quote Máirtín Ó Cadhain that the ‘re-conquest of Irish is the re-conquest of Ireland and the re-conquest of Ireland, the salvation of Irish’.

Dípholaitiú- Tuaisceart Éireann ‘nua’ ag ‘glacadh seilbhe’ ar an Ghaeilge

Is beag saineolaí teanga, polaitíochta nó socheolaíochta nach mbeadh in aontas le tuaraim Naom Chomsky gur ‘ceisteanna cumhachta i gcónaí iad ceisteanna teanga’. Mar sin de, tá teangacha fite fuaite leis an pholaitíocht. Tá an nasc seo i bhfad

níos soiléire i gcomhthéacs an choilíneachais, nuair atá ansmacht an chultúir dhúchasaigh mar phríomhchloch ar pháidrín an ionraidh choilínigh. Ar an bhonn seo, ní tharlaíonn meath teanga ariamh i bpobail atá saibhir agus faoi phribhléid ach dóibh siúd atá díshealbhaithe agus díchumhachtaithe amháin. Lena chois sin, níorbh ann don chúlú teangeolaíochta chéanna in éagmais an daorsmachta shoch-chultúrtha agus shoch-eacnamaíochta ach bíonn sí fréamhaithe mar dhlúthchuid don díshealbhú chultúrtha agus pholaitíochta atá tiomáinte ag leithcheal agus ansmacht follasach. Níl aon áit ina raibh an próiseas seo níos aitheanta ná in Éirinn, a raibh meath cultúrtha ag luas gan comparáid i stair na hEorpa inti, mar thoradh ar choilíneachas foréigneach a shroich a bhuaic le cur i bhfeidhm bruidiúil na scoileanna náisiúnta agus léirscrios an Ocrais Mhóir i lár na Naoú hAoise Dhéag.

Sna cúinsí seo, is tionscnamh polaitiúil é gach iarracht chun athbheochan a dhéanamh ar an chultúr atá i mbaol nó chun ‘díchoiliniú’ a chur i gcrích. In Éirinn, b’iad bunú Chumann Lúthchleas Gael in 1884 agus Conradh na Gaeilge in 1893 a sheas mar chomhartha breithe ar an díchoiliniú chultúrtha agus polaitiúil. Pádraig Mac Piarais féin a dúirt, ‘nuair a bunaíodh Conradh na Gaeilge, cuireadh tús le réabhlóid na hÉireann’ agus tháinig tuar fán tairngneacht le hÉirí Amach na Cásca in 1916 agus an tréimhse réabhloideach san blianta ina dhiaidh. Mar thoradh, gabhadh baill den Chonradh agus cuireadh i ngéibheann iad. D’fhéachtaí ar aon iarracht i dtreo athbheochan teanga mar bhagairt ar smacht cultúrtha na Breataine. Bheadh oidhreacht an choilínithe chultúrtha seo le sonrú go tréan nuair a bunaíodh stát Thuaisceart Éireann fríd an chríochdheighilt in 1920. Bhí naimhdeas agus géarleanúint reachtúil i mbarr a réime leis an teanga agus a gcuid tacadóirí brandáilte mar ‘avowed enemies’ an stáit Oráistigh. Iomlán coimhthithe ón stát ‘páirtí aonaraigh’, rinneadh ‘dul chun cinn’ na Gaeilge a chleachtadh in ‘Uladh faoi Cheilt’ san Ardscoil Ultach agus Cumann Chluain Ard, áit ar éirigh léi maireachtáil beag beann ar na constaicí. Is ó na síolta modhúla seo a d’eascair an tionscadal réabhloideach féinchuidithe ar Ghaeltacht Bhóthar Seoighe a spreag an Ghaelscolaíocht agus athbheochan comhaimseartha na Gaeilge i dtuaisceart na tíre chun beatha. Bhláthaigh an tógra seo faoi thionchar claochlaithe na Stailceanna Ocrais sna luath hOchtóidí, agus an teanga ag spreagadh mothúcháin féiniúlachta agus cumhachtaithe i bpobail faoi léigear.

Is sa chomhthéacs seo a d’fhorbair Rialtas na Bréataine agus OTÉ (Oifig Thuaisceart Éireann) straitéis scoilteach chun an teanga a chomhshamhlú isteach i ndíoscúrsa an ‘dá thraidisiúin i dTuaisceart Éireann’ tríd imeallú a dhéanamh ar tógraí athbheochána radacacha. Ag an am,

bhrúigh OTÉ scoilt i ngluaiseacht na teanga fríd tacaíocht airgeadais a sholáthar do thionscadal Ghaeilge tras-phobal darbh ainm Iontaobhas Ultach, a bunaíodh in 1989, i ndiaidh don Cultural Traditions Group an obair talún ar fad a dhéanamh. Bhí sé d’aidhm ag an straitéis seo ‘Gaeilgeoirí measúla’ a chur chun cinn, agus grúpaí athbheochana i gceantair phoblachtánacha bheith thíos leis. Is mar seo a tháinig díoscúrsa ‘dípholaitithe’ an OTÉ ar an tsaol. I mí Lúnasa 1990, baineadh maoiniú ó Glór na nGael, grúpa Gaeilge a bhí ag feidhmiú i bpobal Iarthar Bhéal Feirste, fríd pholasaí ghrinnfhiosrúcháin pholaitiúil ag OTÉ. Ag bualadh an bhuille ba throime ar na naíscoileanna Gaeilge, níor dearnadh aisiompú ar an pholasaí seo ach tar éis feachtas náisiúnta agus idirnáisiunta ina éadan. An bunsprioc a bhí ag an ‘dípholaitiú’ ná íomhá sheicteach a bhrú ar ghluaiseacht na Gaeilge chun iad a lochtú as polasaithe leatroime stáit ina n-éadan de dheasca a gcuid nascanna leis an náisiúnachas agus poblachtánachas.

Gluais chun tosaigh go dtí an tréimhse iar-phróiseas síochana agus gheall Comhaontú Aoine an Chéasta comhionannas a thógáil tríd ‘eascú agus spreagadh’ a dhéanamh ar an Ghaeilge. Mar sin féin, ainneoin an dul chun cinn atá déanta, fulaingíonn Gaeilgeoirí de bharr leatrom bunúsach go fóill, fíric a chinntíonn stádas s’acu mar shaoránaigh den dára grád in achan léiriú. In éagmais aon chosaint dleathach, is éisceacht iad Gaeil na Sé Chontae i measc cainteoirí teangacha mhionlaithe na n-oileán seo. Dar leis an saineolaí teanga, Fernard de Varennes, síolraíonn an ceart chun do theanga dhúchais a fhoghlaim agus a úsáid ó, ‘a fundamental right and is not some special concession or privileged treatment. Simply put, it is the right to be treated equally without discrimination, to which everyone is entitled.’ Ó 2006 i leith, tá OTÉ agus roinn an chultúir s’acu, DCAL, ag baint leas as cárta trumpa an ‘dípholaitithe’ chun cosc a chur ar an argóint chearta daonna doshéanta d’Acht na Gaeilge i dtuaisceart na hÉireann.

I ndoiciméad chomharliúcháin a d’fhoilsigh DCAL ar Acht na Gaeilge in 2007, dúirt siad go hoscailte go raibh an Ghaeilge ‘controversial’ mar gheall go raibh ‘genuine fears and concerns’ ag Aontachtóirí de thairbhe ‘the erosion of their British identity’. Léiriú a bhí ann ar dhearcadh coilíneach na Breataine a thacaíonn le tuairimí leatroma fríd cur síos orthu mar ‘genuine fears’ ar bhealach a chosnaíonn séanadh ar chearta phobal na Gaeilge. Lena chois sin, thug an tuairim seo, chomh maith le polasaí an ‘dípholaitithe’, crediúint don bharúil miotasach, aonteangach go gcuireann éileamh ar cheartaí don mhionlach isteach ar bhealach éigin ar cheartaí an mhóraimh. Is é an fhírinne, ar ndóigh, nárbh é an t-éileamh ar cheartaí a dhéanann ceist ‘conspóideach’ nó ‘polaitiúil’ do theangacha mhionlaithe ach an séanadh leanúnach ar na ceartaí seo ag rialtais agus stáit ar nós

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Stát na Breataine in Éirinn.

Feinimeán domhanda atá sa phróiseas seo. Tá ordlathas do theangacha chumachtacha curtha i mbun ag an choilíneachas agus an domhandú a bhuanaíonn na caidrimh chumhachta éagothroma ar an domhan sa lá atá inniú ann. Mar sin, is éard is cuspóir do ‘Impiriúlachas teangeolaíochta an Bhéarla’ nó ‘Linguicide’ mar a thugtar air, ná éagothroime shóisialta, eacnamúil, pholaitiúil agus chultúrtha idir teanga an Bhéarla agus teangacha mhionlaithe agus a gcuid cainteoirí a neartú. Tionscnamh polaitiúil neamhthrócaireach atá ann a thiomnaíonn meath teanga ar fud na cruinne. Deir na saineolaithe go gcaillfear 90% do theangacha an domhain, nó níos beaichte arís, 5,400 as 6,000 teanga, i rith an chéid seo. An tréith chomónta atá ag na teangacha seo ná an teagmháil atá acu le mórtheanga a bhain ceannas amach mar gheall ar an cumhacht pholaitiúil, chultúrtha agus shoch-eacnamaíochta uachtarach atá acu. Is streachailt pholaitiúl í an tróid in éadan an fhorlámhais chultúrtha Angla-Mheiriceánaigh seo agus níl a mhalairt de thuaraim bunaithe sa réadúlacht.

Ní bhainfear comhionannas amach do Ghaeilgeoirí sa chaoi chéanna nach n-éireoidh le hathbheochan na Gaeilge gan feachtasaíocht pholaitiúil a eagraíonn pobail na tíre seo i dtreo athrú suntasach. Ní hé seo le háiteamh gur chóir go mbeidh an Ghaeilge fán chrann smola ag an pholaitíocht pháirtí. Más soiléir aon rud; is é sin gur ghá do phobal na Gaeilge neamhspleáchas agus radacachas s’againn a chosaint agus clár oibre s’againn féin a leagan amach, bunaithe ar mhianta s’againn féin. Níl sa bheart poiblíochta ‘dípholaitíthe’ is déanaí ag DCAL, mar atá ‘Líofa 2015’, nach bhfaca aon achmhainní substantiúla ag dul i dtreo na Gaeilge (ó Roinn le dualgas reachtúil chun amhlaidh a dhéanamh), ach sampla eile den Tuaisceart Éireann Nua ag iarraidh ‘seilbh’ a ghlacadh ar an Ghaeilge chun tearmaí tagartha s’aici féin a bhrú ar an dóigh a chuireann muid an Ghaeilge chun cinn. Níl sa tógra seo ach bogadh siombalach sa chluiche cumhachta a fheiceann stáit chumhachtacha ag spalpadh an mhiotais go bhfuil siad ‘liobrálach’ agus cothrom i dtreo theangacha mionlaithe. Is léir gur é an diúltú leanúnach do chiomhionannas i dtaobh theangacha mionlaithe a chinnteofar go leanfaidh siad ag imirt ról lárnach i gcoimhlintí polaitiúla fud fad na cruinne. Níl amhras ar bith gur amhlaidh an scéal leis an Ghaeilge agus go nglacfaidh sé tionscnaimh athbheochana le substáint atá eagraithe ón bhun aníos chun todhchaí s’aicí a chinntiú. Tionscnaimh a aithníonn, mar a dúirt Máirtín Ó Cadhain gur í ‘Athghhabháil na Gaeilge, Athghabháil na hÉireann agus gurb í Athghabháil na hÉireann, slánú na Gaeilge.’