UNDAUNTED: Gaeltacht dispute puts the love of the Irish language before the love of our kids

Steve Daunt explains why the phrase 'local committee' fills him with fear

Gaeltacht, undaunted, Spiddal,

Image: Danjdoyle/Wikipedia

When was the last time you were in your local health centre, or any public service office, and noticed that they are in some of the most inaccessible buildings you can imagine?

The sad thing is some things will move on, and other things will probably stay the same. Depressing, but true.

When I was a child, I was lucky. I lived at home and was able to be bussed in and out of special school every day. This isn’t the time or the place to go into the merits of special education, rather I want to share a memory of some of my classmates.

The sad part is I can’t remember their names, but I do remember they came from 'the country'. That meant that, after school, they didn’t go home. They were bused back to hospitals to be 'cared for'. I’m not sure if they even got home for the weekend. Another friend of mine who has a visual impairment told me of lonely train journey back to Dublin on Sunday evenings in order to get back to St. Joseph’s for school on Monday. He was eight or nine at the time.

Services were all Dublin-based until quite recently. Of course there are still issues. Special Needs Assistant (SNA) funding is always under threat; services come and go. Waiting times are still a sick joke but, for the most part, kids are staying in their community.

This was brought home to me when I read about the Springtime initiative for children with complex disabilities which has been running in Spiddal since 2009. It seems to be really good scheme as the HSE, Enable Ireland and the Brothers of Charity are all working in partnership. While they all have a presence in Galway city, it’s great that they want to reach out to the community.

Children with complex needs. What does that mean? It's usually a signal that the kids will have a number of impairments, both physical and intellectual. The level of care they would need would be quite high also. Routine is important; they can be quite upset when that routine is changed. Having services near to their homes is a huge plus.

Imagine if you had to travel to the other side of the country just to access these services? Deprived of seeing those who love and care about you for days at a time.

The fact they wanted to extended services to older children is another 'good thing' too. They even had a building in mind as a location to house it all, so what could possibly go wrong?

The Irish language.

I like Irish. I did a 10 week beginner course in it last year, and I would never want to see it die. However, in this particular case, I despair.

The building which was going to house the project is funded by the Department of the Gaelteacht, and also managed by a local committee. That phrase is one which strikes fear into any God-fearing citizen.

As we all know, Spiddal’s main language is Irish. The local committee, as is their right, wanted all of the staff in the new centre to be fluent in Irish. In an ideal world, it would be great if every member of staff was bilingual, but the reality of the Irish health and social care services is that it is now staffed by both Irish and non-Irish health professionals. I would suggest imposing an Irish-only language bar would severely limit the kind of staff you could employ.

However, many of the kids who will use the service are non-verbal. Their needs go far beyond a by-law that says services must me offered in Irish; those kids just want services.

As I write, meetings and negotiations are ongoing, and it all seems very petty. Is any of this really helping the kids? In my book, loving the kids must come before love of the language.