Dingle: Our Town - Our Name - Our Heritage



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The Kerryman  (Dingle in the News)
GENERALLY speaking, people are well informed about the Dingle/Daingean Uí Chúis/An Daingean business and Minister Ó Cuív's decision to change the official name of the town against the wishes of the vast majority of the local people. And he did the same in hundreds of other Gaeltacht areas without as much as a by your leave to the local residents.

Regularly, I'm challenged with a: "For Chrissake, the Languages Act was passed in Leinster House; why didn't ye fellas block it?"
Not an unreasonable question and I'll try to answer it. Though the answer is a bit longwinded it is easy to follow.

Here is the sequence of events:
The Language Bill was first published in the Seanad by the then Minister of State Ó Cuiv on April 11, 2002 . But, strange to relate, the Placenames section, which Minister Ó Cuív claims gives him the power to make the placename changes in Dingle and other places, was not in the Bill on the day it was published.
The Bill was fully discussed in the Seanad on April 24, 2002 . So what, you might ask, did we all say about the placename issue? Well, nothing actually, because Minister Ó Cuív in his speech never mentioned anything about the placename issue nor did he signal that it might be round the corner.
Then we had the general election after which Eamon Ó Cuív was appointed a full cabinet minister.
It was almost a year later before he returned to the Seanad with the Bill and he had changed it substantially. We then spent a lot of time over three days in April and May 2003 taking the Bill through committee stage, report stage and final stage.

OK, I hear you, get to the point < what was said about the placename changes? Well you might not believe this but Minister Ó Cuív never mentioned it or his intentions; it was still under wraps. In fact even though I myself raised the importance of having Irish language names in the Gaeltacht, obviously after a vote of the residents as was the law at the time, the minister was not to be drawn on the matter.
So now after a period of more than a year going through Seanad Éireann under the direction of Minister Ó Cuív the most controversial and impactful aspect of the Bill has still not been seen in print or mentioned in debate. Yeah, hard to believe. In fact maybe you'd like to read that last sentence again before pinching yourself.
Still with me? The Bill was then sent to the Dáil where it was debated at some length on May 22 and 23, 2003. But Minister Ó Cuív remained mute on any intentions re the placenames issue and there was still no sign of it in the Bill. At the end of the debate the Bill was referred to the select committee. At committee level the Bill was debated in detail. Points were argued, amendments were put forward and votes on sections were taken but the minister was still silent on placenames!

Now we come to the meat of it.
Towards the end of the Dáil Committee discussion, Fergus O'Dowd < the FG TD whose roots are in Gaeltacht Corcha Dhuibhne < put forward an amendment which would allow for bilingual signs but with priority given to the Gaeilge version. In this most reasonable proposal, he was supported by Sinn Féin.
Minister Ó Cuív opposed the amendment, stating that he intended coming back at the report stage with a new section to the Bill. We will be coming back, he said, with a proposal for official Gaeilge placenames as an alternative to the English version.

So, only after being debated on at least eight different occasions in the Seanad and Dáil was the first indication given to the Oireachtas of the Minister's thinking when he promised a Gaeilge alternative to the official English version.
Here is an extract: "Beidh mé ag teacht le halt nua rud a dhéanfaidh na leaganacha Gaeilge oifigiúil le bheith mar mhalairt don Bhéarla."
This was reassuring and acceptable. But three weeks after his promise he arrived back in the Dail, in July 2003 and, for the first time unveiled his now infamous placenames section and without any memorandum or explanation as to its devastating implications, he ran it through in half an hour. Back to the Seanad for another half hour and he was done.

Of course there was method in this. Firstly, it was introduced at report stage, the significance of which is that TDs and senators can only speak once on an amendment unlike the committee stage where it could have been teased out and argued.

Secondly, it was the last sitting of the Dáil before summer recess and there was no way it could have been raised again.

Thirdly, it meant that no one in the Oireachtas got any understanding of the intentions of the Minister as regards the implementation of the section. For instance, he never mentioned that he would be depriving the residents of Gaeltacht areas of the right to vote on the name of their place.

Fourthly, it was all done such that nobody noticed that the minister had failed to fully inform the Dáil.

As a consequence the section of the Bill which has become most controversial was the only one which senators and TDs had no opportunity to tease out in Leinster House. That's the origin of this fine mess.
Senator Joe O'Toole

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