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Tuesday 30 May 2023 Dublin: 16°C
Two-thirds support more Irish in daily life as young people increasingly link language and identity
New polling indicates a desire for Irish to be used more in this country.

THERE IS A clear desire for the Irish language to be a more prominent feature of daily life in this country, with younger people associating it closely with national identity. 

New polling, conducted by Ireland Thinks/The Good Information Project, has found that almost two-thirds of people (65%) would like to see most people using ‘cúpla focail’ on a daily basis. 

This figure is backed up by 63% of people who would like to hear more Irish used in daily life, with just 14% saying they would not want to hear more Irish. 

Eight separate questions were asked of 1,011 people as part of the survey, gauging their feelings towards the language, whether they speak it and the role of positive discrimination in favour of Irish speakers. 

The results are broken down by a number of demographics including age, gender and region. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly given previous Census data about the language, the results show a disconnect between overall positive feelings towards the language and its habitual use.

The poll surveyed self-reported fluency in the language, with 17% of people saying they were fluent in Irish. This was made up by fluent speakers who say they speak Irish a number of times per week (4%) and fluent speakers who do so less often than that (13%)

Interestingly, the age group with the highest self-reported fluency at 27% was people aged 18-24, suggesting perhaps that fluency wanes in the years after education. 

By contrast, fluency dropped to 20% among 35-44 year-olds and to 12% of 45-54 year-olds. 

On the question of fluency across all age groups, by far the biggest cohort of respondents was the 52% of people who say they have some Irish but do not feel confident enough to understand radio or TV programmes in Ireland. 

Indeed, only 5% of people listen to Irish language programmes daily compared to 31% who responded ‘never’.

This 52% is perhaps precisely the group that can be encouraged and helped as part of the government’s strategy to triple the number of daily speakers of the language by 2030. 

Whether or not this target is actually achieved, the poll certainly reveals a public receptive to the idea.

The panel of people were asked to what extent they feel the Irish language could be used and were given the freedom to select multiple options. 

Almost two-thirds of people (65%) would like to see ‘lots of people using their cúpla focal most days’ with 28% of people saying they would like ‘strong use of the language in the Gaeltacht areas’. 

There was little desire for Irish to become the predominant language in the country, however, with 17% selecting that options. Interestingly, people in Dublin (22%) were more likely to want this than residents of Connacht-Ulster (19%) where Gaeltacht areas are more prevalent. 

Positive discrimination 

There is, however, only marginal support for the goal of one in five public sector recruits being Irish speakers by 2030.

That goal was announced by the government last year with 29% of those polled saying the target was right, with 14% saying it should be higher. 

The combined figure of 43% was only marginally more than the 39% who felt it was too high, with a significant 18% being unsure.  

The figures chime with a theme often observed in polling, when the potential for a change to affect someone’s financial prospects alters an ideological opinion. 

Overall though, lecturer at TU Dublin and managing director of Ireland Thinks Kevin Cunningham explains that the polling is encouraging for people who seek to grow the language. 

“I think there’s often an existential question facing the future of the Irish language but from this poll it is clear that the Irish language has a strong future. It is clearly very important for our national identity and there’s an overwhelming majority in favour of hearing more of the language being spoken,” he says.

There are some small intergenerational differences also. Self-reported fluency among those aged 18-24 is at 27%, significantly higher than older generations. This reflects the steady increase in the number of students taught through Irish as a first language.

“Relatedly, it is also very important to the national identity for this younger cohort. Perhaps as our Irish identity increasingly leans away from Catholicism it has started to lean more heavily into the Irish language.”

The national identity factor referenced by Cunningham and its importance to young people is particularly clear in the data.

The polling shows that 75% of 18-24 year-olds feel the language is either ‘important’ or ‘very important’ to identity compared to 53% of 55-64 year olds and 61% of those aged over 65. 

Overall, there is undoubtedly a link between the Irish language and national identity, with just 18% saying the two are not connected. 

This afternoon we’ll be hosting a webinar on how the Irish language can grow within the EU.

We will be joined by Jim Maher, a senior policy advisor at the European Parliament, and Dr. Teresa Lynn, a research fellow at the ADAPT Centre at DCU. You can register your attendance here

This work is co-funded by Journal Media and a grant programme from the European Parliament. Any opinions or conclusions expressed in this work is the author’s own. The European Parliament has no involvement in nor responsibility for the editorial content published by the project. For more information, see here.

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