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Irish language groups (and broadcasters) aren't happy with Heather Humphreys

The Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs has refused to meet with some Irish-language organisations for the past three years.

Image: sam boal

A NUMBER OF Irish language organisations have expressed their dissatisfaction with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs Heather Humphreys, for declining to meet with them in an official capacity.

In the past several years, the Minister has declined to meet with organisations, saying they are not actually under her remit, but are allocated to the junior minister Seán Kyne.

The Minister has also declined to be interviewed by Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Cormac Ó hEadhra over the issue – which led to a public appeal on the airwaves for the Minister to set aside a date to be interviewed.

Since her appointment in 2014, Minister Heather Humphreys has declined to meet with Irish language organisations such as Conradh na Gaeilge and Údarás na Gaeltachta.

Over the past three years, Conradh na Gaeilge, which aims to strengthen the Irish language through promoting its use, has requested to meet with Minister Humphreys to discuss legislation and funding for the several groups they represent, such as Seachtain na Gaeilge and Foras na Gaeilge.

The Minister has declined to attend, saying that there is precedence for this:

“Responsibility for the Gaeltacht and Irish language matters is statutorily delegated to the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Seán Kyne. This is a situation that has existed under successive governments. That means that Minister of State Kyne has full responsibility for all of the legal provisions relating to the Gaeltacht.”

Conradh na Gaeilge’s general secretary Julian de Spáinn says that the problem is that the Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs was demoted to a junior ministry in recent years, losing complete power over how the department is financed.

The senior position of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs (previously Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht) oversees that junior ministry, but de Spáinn says it “doesn’t have a seat at the Budget table.”

11/10/2016. Budget Day Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Heather Humphreys, and to her right, Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs Seán Kyne. Source: Leah Farrell

When TheJournal.ie contacted the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources Seán Kyne, he clarified what his position was:

“I have responsibility within my budget allocation for Gaeltacht and Island Affairs and am responsible for legislative matters. However, Minister Humphrey’s as senior Minister has the final say on allocation of extra funding to my budget line.

“Minister Humphreys met with Conradh na Gaeilge at their drop-in in Buswells on 5 October and travelled to Furbo, [Co Galway] to meet with officials in Roinn na Gaeltachta and Údarás na Gaeltachta over the summer.

“We have regular Ministerial Management meetings within the department that cover all aspects of the department, including Gaeltacht affairs.”

De Spáinn said that while it was great to have the Minister’s support at the drop-in event in the Dublin hotel, it was not an official meeting to discuss planning and funding for Irish-language organisations.

Interview, led’ thoil?

8/10/2015. 1916 Celebrations Centenary Programmes Source: Sam Boal

Minister Humphreys has also been declining to be interviewed on the Irish-language radio station RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta (RnaG).

At the beginning of September, RnaG’s drivetime radio show Cormac ag a Cúig requested an interview with the Minister to discuss her stance on meetings with Irish language organisations.

A spokesperson for the Minister said she declined the invitation because she cannot speak Irish.

The show’s presenter Cormac Ó hEadhra clarified that the interview could be conducted in English and published on the radio station’s website rather than being broadcast, as RnaG is an Irish-language-only station.

The Minister declined to take part.

After issuing several requests for an interview, Ó hEadhra sent a call out in English on RnaG, imploring on the Minister to ‘answer his request, give him a date’ (Freagair m’iarratas. Tabhair dom dáta):

A Aire Heather Humphreys, má tá tú ag éisteacht, if you’re listening to the programme, please I implore you to do an interview with us, please!
There are serious questions to be answered, please! Freagair m’iarratas. Tabhair dom dáta, le do thoil. Go sábhála mac dílis Dé sinn.

TheJournal.ie contacted the department requesting a statement on why the Minister declined to be interviewed, and received the following response:

“Minister of State Kyne is interviewed on a very regular basis on Raidió na Gaeltachta and on other Irish language media.

“As Minister Kyne has responsibility for all day-to-day matters relating to the Gaeltacht, Minister Humphreys believes he is the most appropriate port of call for groups seeking to make representations relating to the Gaeltacht and to represent the views of her department on Irish language media.

“While Minister Humphreys has taken steps to improve her Irish, including spending a week in the Gaeltacht this summer, she remains strongly of the view that Minister Kyne is the appropriate person to present the views of her department on Irish language media.

She does not anticipate changing her position on this matter.
The request from Raidió na Gaeltachta was for Minister Humphreys to carry out an interview in English, which could not be broadcast on RnaG.

Earlier this week, Sinn Féin Senator Trevor Ó Clochartaigh expressed his dissatisfaction with the Minister’s stance. Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ó Clochartaigh said:

“I think it’s unacceptable. The issues we wanted to discuss are urgent. It appears disrespectful to us and the organisations who gave evidence on the issues [that are] to be discussed.”

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