25 March 2021 (Watch HERE)
Thanks to the Future of Media Commission for the opportunity to speak to you today. The work of the Commission is of great importance and we in Conradh na Gaeilge hope that the recommendations that the Commission put forward will be very beneficial.
Before focusing on Conradh na Gaeilge's recommendations on how funding should be prioritised and allocated, I would like to talk a little about the reasons why we think the Irish language should be included in the main priorities arising from this consultation.
Of course, Irish is the country's national language according to the Irish constitution and is the first official language. The language has had that status for a long time but it has never been acted upon properly.
Not only does the language have constitutional status but the public are very positive about it. According to all polls on attitudes towards the Irish language, the public is very much in favour of it. For example, according to research conducted by the ESRI in 2007, 93% were in favour of the Irish language and in 2013 78% were of the opinion that it is important for their children to have Irish.
People are looking for opportunities to use Irish more and more every day, especially young people. We can see this in third-level colleges, where the Irish language societies are some of the largest student societies in the colleges. Twitter, Gmail, Facebook and other media are available and being used in Irish. The polls again show that the public are not only in favour of the language but also agree that more provision and use should be made of it. For example, according to a Kantar survey in 2020, 68% agreed that there are not enough opportunities for young people to use Irish outside the education system. And in the same survey, we see that the equivalent of 1.6 million are confident in their ability to understand Irish.
How can we meet this demand and this potential through the media in Ireland and how can the media play a key role in normalising the use of Irish in Irish society?
I think it’s worth looking at a great example of this normalisation, albeit a short-lived one, recently. From the first to the seventeenth of March, Irish was used frequently and proudly during Seachtain na Gaeilge on many, many media platforms in Ireland. The question always asked at the end of the festival is why can't the same use of the language continue throughout the year?! Definitely a great question and I will try, through my suggestions on how funding should be prioritised and allocated given the diverse nature of themes to be covered and the competing demands, to answer the question now.
In the case of television, it must be recognised that there are particular challenges for the Irish language to compete with the platforms and the many television stations available to the public in English. Only TG4 provides a high percentage of its programming in Irish, with a further three RTÉ stations providing a small number of programs in Irish (around 1% of their total provision), amongst over 300 television stations in Ireland. The Conradh recommends the following to increase the provision of Irish language on television:
- TG4 should be adequately funded and on the same basis as S4C in Wales to ensure that the station will be able to provide a full complement of Irish language programming
- RTÉ should broadcast at least 5% of its television programming in Irish, and this could be done by cutting back on the amount of television series in English that are available on other television stations
- The use of the Irish language should be normalised in all RTÉ entertainment programmes by including an Irish language requirement in any future contracts awarded to independent production companies or by RTÉ itself, such as Dancing With The Stars, First Dates, etc.
- TG4 and RTÉ should ensure a service in Irish for young people from at least 07.00 in the morning until 7.00 at night
- RTÉ should increase the Irish language sports commentary provided by them to include all GAA matches and all international rugby and soccer matches
- New digital technology should be used to provide Irish language subtitling on Irish language programmes as an additional choice to English language subtitles. This would cater for Irish speakers and learners of the language
In terms of radio, there are only 3 full-time Irish language stations in the south out of the 70 radio stations operating in Ireland, of which one station is primarily aimed at the Gaeltacht community, another station broadcasts only in Dublin on FM and another station aimed at young people does not have an FM licence. Many other radio stations have regular Irish language programmes but, according to recent research by John Walsh at NUI Galway, the programmes are broadcast for the most part during off-peak hours. To increase the provision of Irish on the radio, the Conradh recommends:
- That any new radio licence, or any renewal of a contract, should include a condition for the provision of a measurable provision of Irish language programmes, both within and outside of peak-times
- The Broadcasting Authority of Ireland fee charged to radio broadcasters such as Raidió na Life should be removed, which would help them to increase their coverage and range of programming.
- RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta's capacity to develop its existing services should be resourced
- Appropriate funding should be provided for Raidió Rí-Rá, the chart youth radio station operating since 2008, to broadcast full-time on additional platforms, including FM in particular, and thereby ensuring access to the station for all young people in the country. There are people who say that the station should not worry about FM. They say young people are not listening to the radio. If that were true, though, Spin 103.8, Beat 102-103, and more would be returning their FM license to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland
In addition to these recommendations for both radio and television media, we recommend that:
- At least one in every 5 advertisements in any state awareness campaign on radio or television should be in Irish to help normalise the language. The Irish language is rarely seen or heard in any awareness campaign currently
- Websites, streams, podcasts, social media, apps, and any other services of public service media should also have adequate provision in Irish
In terms of journalism, there are only two Irish language newspapers (Tuairisc.ie and nós.ie that are available online only) out of the 70 newspapers and 4 out of the 200 magazines in the country. A small number of other newspapers and magazines occasionally publish articles in Irish. To address this lack of Irish language content, the Conradh recommends:
- That a special fund be established to assist in the development of the existing Irish language newspapers and magazines, in particular, to assist them in employing more full-time and freelance journalists
- That a portion of any future fund set up to help journalism be set aside for articles in Irish in newspapers and magazines that operate primarily in English
Finally, I hear people from time to time say that there is no, or insufficient, demand for Irish language provision from the media. In response, it must be said that there is not and nor has there ever been a satisfactory supply of Irish in the media to create that demand. It will take time and resources to achieve this and I hope that the Commission on the Future of the Media will be able to ensure that, 100 years since the founding of the state in the south, satisfactory provision is made in the media for the Irish language community, the Gaeltacht community and for those with an interest in the language for the first time ever.