This is a response to the article entitled “If every week is Seachtain na Gaeilge on RTÉ, do we need TG4?” by Bernice Harrison, which discusses RTÉ’s recently launched Irish Language Action Plan. The main commitments of the action plan include:
- Bilingual English-Irish bulletins on 2FM
- A new youth-orientated Irish-language radio service
- Increased use of Irish in television promos, continuity and weather bulletins
- Irish-language option of the RTÉ Player
- Innovative content for language learners
- Advertisers will be incentivised to provide advertising in Irish on tv, radio and digital
Harrison compares the decision to begin bilingual bulletins on 2FM to disguising vegetables in an attempt to sneak them into toddler’s meals.
Toddlers hate vegetables, but as vegetables are good for them, as a parent, it’s your job to get them down their throats and the only way is if they are disguised.
(Is anyone else tired of that “shoved/rammed/forced down our throats” line that is so often used in anti-Gaeilge rhetoric? Sure at least it gets you a square on Anti-Gaelic Bingo!)
It’s a neat analogy on which to begin the article, but unlike blended vegetables in ragu sauce, a language can’t really be “disguised”. Irish will be spoken on 2FM and listeners will know it is Irish. After years of having predominantly English-only broadcasts, listeners will now hear both languages represented together. Many people will welcome hearing the cúpla focal (and let’s not kid ourselves, it won’t be much more than that).
Harrison also finds fault with the plan’s suitability for those who actually intentionally do want to hear Irish:
You could say of course that if a listener really wants nuacht instead of news, all they have to do – and these are young, media savvy types who know their way around the airwaves – is turn the dial a fraction to RnaG.
This argument is understandable, or at least it would be, if the country was split into two camps; those who speak only Irish and consume only Irish-language media, and those who speak only English and see Irish as a waste of time.
But that’s not the case, is it?
Yes, there are people who make a conscious effort to speak Irish as much as possible in their lives, and I’m certain they know where and when to get their nuacht.
But there are also people who might not use Irish very often; because their families don’t speak it, because their friends don’t speak it, or because they don’t need it for their job – it’s understandable. For some people, their only interaction with the language might be hearing bilingual Luas announcements, singing our national anthem, or shouting to a friend across a crowded bar that they are going to the leithreas. And that’s ok, it’s not all or nothing.
There are many shades of Irish speakers, and this new plan will cater for that nuanced reality more successfully than the previous binary division where we had English-only and Irish-only broadcasting.
When Harrison discusses the effect that RTÉ’s plan may have on TG4, it is hard to believe she has any real concern about the station becoming obsolete:
But what then about TG4? Does it push the station further into niche minority territory? If the language is going to be more fully integrated into RTÉ One and 2 programming then who is TG4 for? Are there really that many Irish language speakers who need an entire station for themselves if the language can be blended creatively into RTÉ and RTÉ2?
The audience for TG4’s Irish language programming is not likely to abandon the station because of what little RTÉ is now offering. In her article, Harrison mentions TG4’s “An Klondike” (albeit only to criticise the budget of €1.6 million). This acclaimed drama is just one example of the high quality programming that TG4 provides for its viewers. A few bilingual bulletins and continuity announcements cannot compete with this production, nor are they intended to.
I don’t believe that Harrison could genuinely be suggesting that RTÉ’s action plan will render the minority language station obsolete. No, rather she writes with an emphasis on budget to set TG4 up as an unnecessary financial burden, benefiting a small minority.
One imagines that the response to “Do we need TG4?” is supposed to be some variation of, “No. No, we don’t need TG4, let’s stop funding it. It is a farce and a waste of money and it’s because of TG4 that hospitals are not getting built and sick children are dying. Shame on the selfish Gaeilgeoirí. SHAME!” (As seen in the comments section on any article about Irish ever.)
The commitments of the action plan are far from extravagant: the RTÉ player finally being available in both official national languages; and some Irish being used during ads, promos, and weather bulletins. If anything, the list is basic and only serves to demonstrate how the Irish language, and those who use it, have been largely ignored until now on the flagship stations.
It doesn’t matter how much the phrase “dead language” is bandied about, or how much certain people or organisations want Irish to finally kick the bucket – Irish is alive. Irish speakers exist and the language is used in various amounts and levels by diverse groups and growing numbers of people.
This action plan is about the national broadcaster catering for the entire population, which includes all of people in that diverse group of Irish speakers. Native speakers, adult-learners, people who learned their Irish in school and still understand it, people with a cúpla focal that they rarely use but who say they’d love to hear it more, see it more, speak it more.
This action plan is about giving them that chance. Go n-éirí leis.
Bernice read my response: