A member of the Irish band Kíla is asking Fine Gael Cllr. Martin Harley to apologise for language the councillor used in replying to the musician's criticisms of the Fine Gael policy on the Irish language, and the councillor said he sent an email apology yesterday.
"He has the misguided idea that a language activist is also a violent nationalist, and the two aren't the same at all," said Rossa Snodaigh, a founder member of Kla.
Cllr. Harley said that he "maybe went slightly over the top" in his language, but added, "I don't apologise for defending my party."
Rossa had contacted Fine Gael politicians around the country to express concern over the party's plan to make Irish a choice subject on the Leaving Certificate. Cllr. Harley was one of a handful of politicians who responded.
"It was toward political, financial, cultural and linguistic sovereignty that Irish men and women sacrificed their lives in the GPO nearly 100 years ago," Rossa wrote. "Perhaps the reason we feel the loss of sovereignty so sharply after the IMF's financial takeover is because, unlike Iceland and Greece, we don't yet collectively speak our own language."
He wrote that the government's 20-year strategy for Irish was "already being threatened by Fine Gael, who wish to make Gaeilge a choice subject on the leaving cert." He said that when the United Kingdom ended mandatory foreign languages in 2005, a 60 per cent drop in language study followed.
"Gaeilge is more than just a subject, it is a language and has encoded in its words a way of seeing the world from a uniquely Irish perspective," Rossa wrote. "But Fine Gael would sacrifice it for the fickle whims of hormone-driven teenagers." He called the plan "an act of cultural suicide."
Cllr. Harley replied that he took exception to Rossa's remarks about his party. He said that he finished his Leaving Certificate in 1982 and applied for a job as a Dublin postman, which required a successful Leaving Certificate in Irish. "I am very proud to say that I achieved this and went on to my interview for the job and in that I was asked Cad is ainm duit," Cllr. Harley wrote.
"I had studied the Irish Language for 13 years to be asked my name," he wrote. "If I had studied French language I could be working in any country in the world, not stuck here with bigots like yourself who bury people and do not tell their families where they are for 31 years you call yourselves Irish don't make me laugh."
Rossa is a brother of Aengus Snodaigh, the Sinn Fin TD for Dublin South-Central, though Cllr. Harley said he was not aware of the connection when he wrote his response.
"I was maybe too strong in my reply to him, but I hate people attacking the Fine Gael party," he said. He added, "I don't see any other party jumping up and down to champion the language", and questioned why other parties were not similarly criticised.
But he allowed that "maybe I was wrong, using that terminology".
In an email response, Rossa wrote that he took exception to being called a bigot. "As regards burials and not letting people know where they are -- this does not relate to me. Perhaps you are mistaking me with someone else. I belong to a music group, not a political party."
Speaking yesterday, though Cllr. Harley said he agreed with the Fine Gael policy on Irish, he said he also believed the Irish syllabus should include more cultural elements, such as music, dance and literature. "I think if more people could see the cultural side of it they would be more eager to learn the language," Cllr. Harley said, adding that he would put his views on the issue to party colleagues.
Rossa said politicians who responded missed his main point.
"They're all very evasive on the main tenet of what I was saying, that tweaking the stance of Irish will only weaken the stance of Irish," he said.
"The problem is the education system and that can be made better," Rossa said.
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