Dáil Éireann - Volume 592 - 09 November, 2004

Priority Questions. - Irish Language.

  78. Mr. O’Shea asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if, in relation to his letter in a newspaper (details supplied), he will elaborate on his comments that the outcry against the singing of the Irish national anthem in English at the Ryder Cup in America is evidence that the vast majority of the population has a positive attitude towards the Irish language; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [27979/04]

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The statement is self-explanatory and does not require elaboration.

  Mr. O’Shea: Will the Minister agree that making a daft statement about the vast majority of the population having a positive attitude towards the Irish language based on the fact that there was a complaint about the national anthem being sung in English at the Ryder Cup in the United States is a very unscientific statement? Will he agree further that we do not know the attitude to the Irish language of the vast majority of the population? We will not know that unless and until qualitative research is carried out or, alternatively, there is a referendum on the matter. My basic point is that a daft statement such as this damages the movement that seeks to preserve and promote the Irish language.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The Deputy may have missed the original article in which the allegation was made that there was general bad will towards the Irish language with just a few people interested in it. While travelling throughout the country, everywhere I go I find general goodwill towards the language. There has been research on this issue in the past. While I have a science background, the reality is that one of the best tests of popular opinion is the mood of this House. One thing that can be said of politicians of all colours is that they tend to get the way the wind is blowing fairly fast. Allowing for the fact that this House reflects the view of the people, there appears to be goodwill towards the Irish language. I will not waste significant sums of money carrying out qualitative research to debunk a wild statement made in a newspaper about lack of support for the Irish language.

The general support for TG4 and the gaelscoileanna, indicates that the vast majority of people throughout the country support the Irish language in different forms. The fact that everyone sings the national anthem in Irish indicates that there is not a general antipathy towards the language, because if that were the case, people would sing it in English.

[27]   Mr. O’Shea: We are getting a little bit of “looking into our hearts and seeing what the Irish people want”. The question I asked was based on a letter published in a national Sunday newspaper. The Minister has not addressed the issue of whether it was a ridiculous statement to say that, because some people objected to the national anthem being sung in English at the Ryder Cup, showed that the vast majority of the Irish people are favourable towards the Irish language. That sort of crazy logic does no service to those of us who want to see the Irish language preserved and promoted. We need to be much more accurate and scientific in what we say. I disagree with the Minister that qualitative research is not important. We need to know what people in general think about the language before we can move forward. In addition, it is extremely important to develop in the community at large an ownership attitude towards the Irish language. What we are getting is hit and miss policies and daft statements such as this, which are putting back the day when we can make real progress.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: If we need qualitative research, and this is taking place, we can get it anytime. A comprehensive policy is being followed in regard to the language. We must also be careful about research, which is often largely influenced by how one asks a question. There is the famous case of the car manufacturer who asked people what kind of car they wanted. As most people like to appear sensible, they answered that they would like a very sensible solid car and so on. When the car went on the market it was a total failure. The second survey was carried out slightly differently. People were asked what they thought their neighbour would want and they said they would want a big flashy car, with plenty of gadgets such as electric windows and so on. That car sold like a bomb. The way one asks a question can prompt the answer. It is difficult to get to the hard science of the matter, no matter what sociologists tell us.

As we are all aware, one of the reasons we need politicians is that, even though one might get all the evidence, it does not prove to be that useful when one tries to do the thing in practice. I am a great believer in the wisdom of the political system. It is often the best opinion poll of all because sometimes the antennae of politicians are much more accurate than surveys since sometimes questions are loaded to provide a specific answer.

  Mr. O’Shea: I am sure the Minister believes the waffle we have just heard has some significance.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: It is a fact.

  Mr. O’Shea: Does the Minister stand over his statement in the Sunday Independent that the proof that the vast majority of the people support the language can be based on the fact that people objected to the national anthem being sung in English at the Ryder Cup competition? The Mini[28] ster has avoided the issue. Waffling is all very well——

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I gave a straight answer on that.

  Mr. O’Shea: The Minister did not answer that.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: I never said that so I cannot——

  Mr. O’Shea: That is what it said.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: The Deputy can check, but I never said it was proof. I said there was general goodwill for the language and then said “for example” and gave the example. However, it was not a question of proof. Nobody can prove it. Even if we carry out the scientific survey the Deputy has mentioned, it will not prove anything. It only proves that on a certain day, a certain number of people express a certain view to a certain question. Proof in a mathematical sense is not available on any of these questions.

  An Leas-Cheann Comhairle: We must move on to the next question.

  Éamon Ó Cuív: What I said was only an example but in these cases it gives a good sense of what people are thinking.

  Mr. O’Shea: The Minister should read his own words.