/ The Irish government has but to ask!' Campaign launched for enhanced status of Irish in the EU
by Eoghan Ó Néill
The Irish government has but to ask!
That's the slogan of a growing campaign to persuade the Irish government to seek enhanced status for the Irish language in the European Union.
In 1973 when Ireland joined the European Common Market it was offered full official status for the Irish language in the Common Market. Amazingly the government of the time turned down the offer and settled instead for Irish to be a 'treaty language.'
Therefore, while many of the main treaties of the EU are published in Irish most of the secondary publications of the Treaty are not.
Now with the accession of new states to the EU bringing the issue of the status of languages to the fore again Irish speakers are organising a concerted campaign to enhance the status of Irish in the Union.
‘The Irish government has but to ask!’ is the slogan adapted by Conradh na Gaeilge, one of the main groupings pushing for enhanced status for Irish.
The campaign is backed by most Irish language groups and also by mainstream politicians and some of the political parties.
And last week they scored a major coup when former government advisor and present member of the National Forum on Europe, Noel Mulcahy, lent his full support to the campaign.
As a key Irish government advisor in 1972 Noel Mulcahy was one of those who advised the government not to seek official status in Europe for the Irish language.
According to Noel he and his committee were so concerned about the other issues such as agriculture and fishing at the time that they didn't push the issue of language with the confidence or vigour with which they should have.
And he told Eurolang, ‘It was a mistake - no doubt. The status of languages in the EU is under review now however and we do have a chance to address the issue again. It is complex but there is no doubt that the status of Irish could and should be enhanced in the Union and we need to apply the pressure to make sure that the mistake of 1972 isn't repeated.’
At the National Forum on Europe in Dublin recently Noel Mulcahy addressed the Taoiseach Bertie Ahern directly, asking the Taoiseach to ensure that Ireland does seek an enhanced status for the Irish language in the new circumstances of enlargement of the EU and the adoption of a new constitution.
He was joined in his appeal by Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin member of the Forum, who emphasised that the government had now a unique opportunity to undo the error of 1972.
In reply the Taoiseach insisted that the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Community and Rural Affairs, Eamann Ó Cuív, would be doing all that he could to enhance the status of Irish in Europe. A spokesperson for Minister Ó Cuív said that the Minister is presently studying the issue in detail and will be commenting at some time in the future.
Irish speakers are concerned, however, that while Minister Eamann Ó Cuív may indeed be well disposed towards the appeal for enhanced status for Irish in Europe the Foreign Affairs Department does not appear as engaged in the issue as they would like. Language was not raised by the Irish side at the latest meeting of the Inter - Governmental Conferences.
Fergus O'Dowd, TD from the main opposition party Fine Gael, has urged Minister Ó Cuív to apply pressure to the Department of Foreign Affairs to ensure that the Irish case is not lost this time due to negligence or apathy on the part of government.
And language consultant, Dónall Ó Riagáin, shares his concern. He insists that the case for enhanced status for Irish in Europe is solid - but that it must be made with by the government to succeed.
‘While Maltese is spoken by 300,000 people, 1.75 million people in the state of the Republic of Ireland have some knowledge of Irish. Irish should therefore enjoy at least the same status as Maltese will have in the new Europe.’
The campaign for enhanced status for Irish will be accelerated in the coming weeks and will undoubtedly be more vocal and visible as Ireland takes over the Presidency of the Union in January 2004. And Irish speakers pressing their cause are very conscious that government will be particularly attentive to a well organised campaign in the immediate future as there will be both local and European elections in Ireland in mid 200