Relaxation on the way for Irish-only clause in planning

The Irish language conditions restricting the use of new houses in Gaeltacht villages to Irish speakers only, controversially introduced in the Galway County Development Plan three years ago, seem likely to be overhauled and watered down.

Connemara County Councillors are close to an agreement about substantial changes to the conditions which are likely to see them abolished in areas such as Moycullen and Claregalway. There are also a number of changes proposed in the west Connemara and Aran Island Gaeltacbts that will allow for returning emigrants and their families, as well as people contributing to the economic development of these areas, to buy houses in Gaeltacht village schemes irrespective of whether they can speak Irish or not.

Following the adoption of the Galway County Development Plan in 2003, conditions were put in place that prevented many, if not most, non-Irish speakers from buying bouses in newly built estates in some Gaeltacht villages. The percentages of houses that would be set aside for Irish speakers only, ranged from 18% in Claregalway up to possibly 100% in strong Gaeltacht areas in west Connemara.

The changes to the Irish language planning conditions that are being discussed by the Connemara Councillors may weIl save Galway City Council from having to bring in similar type conditions in the city and possibly sparking off a major controversy. City Manager, Joe Mc Grath and City Councillors with Gaeltacht areas in their Electoral districts have been invited to a meeting being organised by Údarás na Gaeltachta CEO, Pádraig Ó hAoláin next Thursday at which the Irish language conditions in planning in the Gaeltachts generally will be discussed.

The City Council did not put any Irish language clauses into the City Development Plan 2005-2011 even though the city has a number of official Gaeltacht areas within its boundaries - including Knocknacarra, Tireallan Heights and Menlo. But if County Councillors vote to leave areas such as Moycullen and Claregalway out of the Gaeltacht rules - on the basis that they cannot be described as Irish speaking communities - then the City Council may he "let off the hook."

The Irish language conditions have caused considerable controversy since they were introduced and Connemara Councillors have now moved to limit the use of the conditions in the future as part of the Review of the County Plan.

The process of reviewing the Plan is going on at the moment and Connemara Councillors had two meetings last week at which the language conditions were discussed. It seems iikely that they will vote to leave the conditions as they are in the area from Barna along the south Connemara road as far as Rosaveal or Carraroe.

This is because the coastline from Barna to Rosaveal comes heavily under the influence of Galway city and could attract a lot of new housing. It is also a much stronger area economically, with an increasing population whereas the opposite is the case in west Connemara.

The Councillors now seem set on removing any Irish language requirement in the case of the following categories of people who may wish to buy bouses in Gaeltacht villages in west Connemara - including the Joyce Country and the Aran Islands:

  • Natives of the area;
  • People living in the area and defined as "local" people in the County Development Plan;
  • People in long term employment in the area;
  • People who bring skills to the area, or who contribute to the economic vibrancy of the aiea;
  • Returning emigrants who are natives of the aiea;
  • People returning from other parts of the country to their home aiea;
  • The families of emigrants and migrants from the aiea.
Fluent Irish speakers will be entitled to buy bouses in village schemes in CLÁR areas irrespective of whether they are local people or not.

"I think it is a fair and reasonable change," said Councillor Seosamh Ó Cuaig (Independent). "I think nobody in Connemara would want to put restrictions on emigrants and their families. Surely we welcome them back. Then we do need skills and developments, too - and new people. "But that is far from a 'free for all' in west Connemara. I think we have enough protection for the language in the way we are doing it - while, at the same time, trying to keep Gaeltacht communities alive.

"But we must do everything possible to provide opportunities for new people to learn Irish. For instance, it is an awful pity that Údarás na Gaeltachta abandoned its policy of providing Irish language créches in Gaeltacht communities - a real backwaid step", Councillor Ó Cuaig said. "The creche development scheme should be reinstated by the Údarás."

Councillor Ó Cuaig also said it was good to see a numbers of Connemara Councillors backing up the idea of a 20,000 housing grant for new bouses in CLÁR areas in the Gaeltacht.

Councillor O Cuaig said he was also looking at a relocation type grant for Irish speakers who would come to CLÁR areas.

MAIRTÍN Ó CATHAIN Curadh Chonnachtach 14/7/2006