Ensuring a successful Presidency of the Council of the EU is not easy. We must be gracious, impartial hosts and ensure Europe’s agenda for this term is completed. We must think of the greater good of the Council, and Europe. Otherwise, we risk losing credibility, something we cannot afford doing at the moment. However, we are Irish as well as European and the success of Ireland’s Presidency is largely dependent on Ireland doing what it does best, that is being Irish. Playing such an important role for six months gives Ireland the opportunity to showcase everything that is unique and positive about this country. We are renowned worldwide for our Céad Míle Fáilte, but can Ireland’s Presidency include more of the Irish language rather than just those famous three words?
Having attended the Citizens’ Dialogue in Dublin City Hall on 10 January, and the joint EESC-EM Ireland conference Ireland 40 Years On: The Benefits, Opportunities and Challenges of EU Membership on 1 February, as a Gaeilgeoir I’m not so sure. These events, like all during the Presidency, are of course European events. The EU has 23 official languages and as hosts we have to represent the entire EU and not just ourselves. At the conference in Castleknock last Friday, the main spoken language was English, although delegates were also able to address the room in French, German and Spanish. Simultaneous interpretation was offered into English, French, German and Spanish. All around me I saw signs, leaflets and documents in English. The event’s agenda was also offered in different languages. Nowhere did I see Gaeilge. And yet, if I lived outside Ireland and visited the official website of the Presidency – www.eu2013.ie – I would think Irish was just as important as English in Ireland.
The website is available in full in English, Irish, French and German. The ‘About Ireland’ section gives information on the Irish language – its history, the reasons behind its decline, and the government’s efforts to maintain and promote the language. The website also says that 40% of Irish people speak some Irish and refers to the 20-year strategy to increase the number of daily Irish speakers. One great aspect of this section is that it also gives some useful examples of Irish for visitors, such as slán, céad míle fáilte, and sláinte. It also explains a number other words which they might hear while in Ireland, such as Seanad, Oireachtas, and gardaí. This inclusion of Irish in the official Presidency website is to be welcomed, and yet I don’t feel these efforts are translating on the ground.
So far in my experience I have heard more visitors speaking Irish than I have natives. The President of the European Commission, José Manuel Barroso, and the President of Group III of the European Economic and Social Committee, Luca Jahier, both began their addresses with Irish. It is clear that others recognise our individuality as a nation and are respectful of that. The Presidency is a time to boost and promote our image, and the Irish language is a part of that image. Other European countries are proud of their language and show off their individuality; we should do the same.
I don’t expect the Presidency to be hosted through Irish. This Presidency is about Europe as a community and English is the most widely known foreign language in the EU. I believe that Ireland can be inclusive and showcase our native language while using English to communicate with our fellow Europeans. For example. Bord Bia who sponsored the meals at Ireland 40 Years On did this with our food. Our Visitors didn’t need telling about the quality of our food, they could taste it. There are many Irish-language cultural events taking place throughout the six-month term of the Presidency. These include Stair na gCeilteach in Galway, which showcases the art of the Gaeltacht areas, and Guthanna na nOileán in Cork, focusing on the traditional singing of the Gaeltachtaí. These events are taking place outside Dublin, which will host the vast majority of the 1,200 Presidency meetings, but it’s worth showing more of our country and heritage. Let them taste our culture and history rather than hear about it.
Ireland’s Presidency of the Council of the EU is a wonderful opportunity to show Europe and the World our individuality and one that won’t come around again for at least 14 years. Let’s use it wisely and make the most of it. Is féidir linn.
(Clodagh Garry, YMIP from Grange, Limerick is an MA student in Communications and Journalism in the Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta at NUIG, and is covering the Irish Presidency in her role as a participant on European Movement Ireland’s new initiative Youth Media and the Irish Presidency. She is an Irish speaker and is passionate about the Irish language and Irish culture).
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