This week I have been appointed as Minister of State across two Government departments – the Department of Rural and Community Development and the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment and have responsibility for Natural Resources, Community Affairs and Digital Development.
In effect my role at the Department of Communications, Climate Action and Environment has been expanded to include not only natural resources and inland fisheries but also digital development.
The Department of Rural and Community Development is a new department and is in the process of setting up with staff and a new building etc.
I look forward to continuing my work in Natural Resources as well as the new challenges in Community Affairs which involves many commitments in the Programme for Government on renewing and revitalising both rural and urban communities.
Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs
In May 2016, having participated in the talks and the negotiations on forming the new Partnership Government, I was privileged to be appointed Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources.
As a TD for Galway West, which includes the largest Gaeltacht in the country, and as a Connemara man I have always had a strong interest in and appreciation of An Ghaeilge. So, to become Minister with responsibility for An Ghaeilge and the Gaeltacht was a great honour.
It is neither today nor yesterday that the Irish Language has endured great challenges. For centuries the dominance and pervasiveness of the English Language has proven an immense challenge to not just the Irish Language but to other minority languages. The challenges span various different areas from education to service provision to communications to representation. And attitudes to the language are also, in my experience, a considerable challenge.
In my view, it is not about prioritising one language over another but about respecting each language and recognising the rights that accrue to speakers.
As Minister I have been open to new ideas, to opinions and suggestions, to advice and expertise. I have sought to listen to Gaeltacht communities and Irish language speakers outside the Gaeltacht. I have striven to include all stakeholders, including Opposition TDs and senators, in the major decisions that had to be made.
Resources and finances are ever present issues and I fought hard to secure extra funding for An Ghaeilge and for Gaeltacht communities. The primary point is that if we do not strive to protect and promote our native language we can hardly expect others to do so for us or to complain about the decline in the number of speakers or about the diminution in the status of visibility of An Ghaeilge.
Looking at my time as Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs there are a number of standout achievements including:
- The publication of the heads of the new Official Languages Bill
- Increased Capital funding for Gaeltacht Support Schemes and Irish Language Support Schemes
- Increased funding for the Twenty Year Strategy for the Irish Language with work underway on an action plan
- Increased Capital funding of €2.4 million for Údarás na Gaeltachta
- €1.5 million in funding for road network on the islands
- Recruitment of Irish language translators ahead of Irish becoming a working language of the European Union
- The launch of the State’s first ever Gaeltacht Education Policy
- Increased funding of €1 million for An Foras Teanga – Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency
- Over half a million in funding for the internationally recognised qualification framework for Irish – Teastas Eorpach na Gaeilge
- The doubling of the grant for new households to become accommodation-providers for Irish language students
- €250,000 in funding to increase the grant to support Mna Tí
- The signing of a new four-year contract for air services for the Aran Islands
- The resolution of issues regarding ferry services for the Aran Islands with work and consultation underway on finding a long term solution
- The resolution of the legacy debt issue between the Department and Galway County Council regarding Inis Mór harbour which facilitated Galway County Council to press ahead with the new pier for Inis Oírr
- The progression of the new pier for Inis Meáin to design and planning stage
- A public consultation process on the future of the air strips at Cleggan and Inisbofin
- First increase in current funding for Gaeltacht Comharchumann’s since 2008
Issues that I hoped to progress prior to the Dail recess include
- A review of the Education Policy in how it relates to schools in marginal Gaeltacht areas
- The introduction of Scéim na Foghlaimeoirí Gaeilge to Clár areas as an aid to increasing pupil numbers
- A plan to speed up the implementation of the Twenty Year Strategy for the Irish Language
While challenges remain I believe there is great potential to build on the progress that has been achieved.
I wish the new Government Chief Whip and Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeilge, Gaeltacht and the Islands, Joe McHugh the best in his new role.
I will continue to work with Gaeltacht communities, with Irish language speakers and with everyone who shares the commitment to protect, preserve and promote An Ghaeilge.
I would like to thank the officials from Roinn na Gaeltachta and Údarás na Gaeltachta for their advice, help and assistance over the last year and also would like to thank the Commissioner Teanga, Ronán Ó Dómhnaill and his office.