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Six O'Clock Show presenter Brian Dowling shakes Ivan Yates's hand Virgin Media

Ivan Yates doubles down on his comments about the Irish language

Yates said he believes there needs to be an “adult conversation” about the level of resources given to the Irish language.

BROADCASTER AND BUSINESSMAN Ivan Yates has doubled down on comments he made about the Irish language that have caused uproar among Gaeilgeoirí online.

While a guest on The Six O’Clock Show on Virgin Media Television, Yates was asked if he speaks Irish when the show’s hosts, Brian Dowling and Fionnuala Jay, interviewed native-speaker Síle Seoige. 

Yates said: “Níl focal ar bith agam. I couldn’t be arsed to learn Irish and I’m sorry if you’re offended.”

Dowling then got up from his seat and shook Yates’s hand, adding that he too has no Irish. Yates continued: “All this money we put into it, and there’s only 16,000 people in the country speaking it now.”

He added that he’s “not against it”.

In the 2022 census, around 1.83 million people said they could speak Irish. Some 10% of these said they could speak Irish very well, while a further 32% could speak it well.

A third (623,961) of people who could speak Irish said they did so daily, both within and outside the education system. 

Virgin Media shared a clip of the exchange on X, but it has since been deleted as Yates’ comments received a slew of backlash. One X user described the comments as “dreadful”, and another said Dowling was “just as bad” for shaking his hand.

Global Gaelic Games, which has a substantial following on the platform, hit out at the exchange: “Lose your language, lose your heritage. If people don’t want to learn it, fair enough but don’t be disparaging about it. It should be encouraged,” they said.

One X user wrote: “What a horrible way to describe the Irish language and shame on the presenter for allowing that happen.”

Another wrote: “I like Ivan Yates, but am disappointed in him.”

Speaking to The Journal today, Yates doubled down on his comments: “I’m not bothered by Twitter spats, but if anyone watched the programme, they’ll see that I was on to speak about politics and the power of podcast.”

The former agriculture minister said that the comments were “in the context of Síle Seoige’s interview” and that he was not on the panel to speak about the Irish language.

On the handshake, Yates said Dowling “spontaneously shook my hand” and that while he has no issue with Seoige or others who have later shared criticism on his comments, he believes there should be a space for an “adult conversation” on the topic.

Yates said: “I have no problem with Síle Seoige or anyone else, but I do think we need to have an adult conversation about the resources allocated to the Irish language.

“Would the resources committed to the language be better if they were allocated to healthcare or childcare, for example?

“I think it’s worthy of a national debate and not one that’s left to zealots – the people and organisations who get defensive about Irish every time this is brought up,” Yates said.

In October, Gaeltacht ministers Catherine Martin and Patrick O’Donovan announced €2.18 million in funding to “strengthen the Irish language in schools” through the ‘Gaelbhratach scheme’.

Other action plans, in place by the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, outline a 20-year strategies to improve the language in areas such as education, media, economics and family and social life in and outside Gaeltacht regions.

Some issues remain, however, such as a scarcity of teachers for Gaelscoils as teaching-through-Irish allowances have yet to be reinstated and housing shortages in Gaeltacht regions that have caused people to protest in Dublin today.

Additional reporting by Stephen McDermott and Mairead Maguire.

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