Select Committee on BBC Charter Review Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740 - 759)


Mr Allan Bremner, Ms Patricia Galvin and Mr Pa«dhraic O« Ciardha

  Q740  Lord Peston: I do not mean in schools, I mean in universities?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Yes, they do, and in addition to the linguistic and literary study of the language at third level there are also, particularly since the advent of our own channel, courses now in a number of third level institutions to provide both undergraduate and postgraduate training in television production in the Irish language and in video skills and all of that. So they do play a key role in providing us with a talent pool from which we can draw.

  Ms Galvin: Also to add to that point, Irish early last year is an official language of Ireland, in which case all documentation, signing, et cetera—

  Q741  Lord Peston: Of the EU?

  Ms Galvin: Of the EU, indeed. I think that very much serves to make the language pervasive in the sense that it is on maps, it is on road signs, et cetera. That will, I suppose, enable us to foster and recognise the presence of the language even more.

  Q742  Lord Maxton: Despite all that investment are the numbers speaking the language going up or going down?

  Mr O« Ciardha: You may ask that question more specifically of the North/South Irish Language Body, who is visiting you this afternoon.

  Q743  Lord Maxton: I meant across the whole of Ireland.

  Mr O« Ciardha: The numbers using it are probably going up in the sense that it has become more fashionable and slightly more chic and certainly more trendy, I think. The number of people speaking it in the rural heartlands of the Irish speaking areas on the west coast, where I am from myself, are probably declining. But I should point out that this is not a unique phenomenon. I think UNESCO has said that of the 6000 languages in the world 5,965 are in imminent danger of extinction, and that does not include Irish. All the Celtic languages are under huge pressure from the Anglophone word, which predominates the globalisation.

  Q744  Lord Maxton: Despite the fact it being the official language in the south and despite the fact that it is a compulsory subject in schools and is taught in the universities, and you have your own station?

  Mr O« Ciardha: As is the case with Scots Gaelic and Welsh.

  Q745  Lord Maxton: Scots Gaelic and Welsh are not in quite the same position. Scots Gaelic is certainly not the official language of Scotland.

  Mr O« Ciardha: That is true, but it is the case, as I said, that almost all of these lesser used languages, let us call them, are under huge pressure, and in the case of Welsh, Scots Gaelic and Irish because of the cheek by jowl nature of the major world language of the media, and such excellent language, the English language the medias have. The odds are very much stacked against it, despite the official status.

  Q746  Lord Peston: To revert to Lady Bonham-Carter's question about independent producers. If you want to produce one of the great works of Irish literature in Irish are there independent producers out there sufficiently to do that kind of thing for you?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Dozens of them!

  Q747  Lord Peston: So that would not be a restraint?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Not at all, not at all. Just in passing, it was one of the benchmarks we set ourselves when we were established in the mid-90s, that we wished to reach, as S4C had already reached, I think, that year, the position where Branwen, a Welsh language feature film, had actually been nominated for best language film at the Oscars, buy sadly it did not win. To produce a feature film in Irish is one of our ambitions, but it is very much a realisable one.

  Q748  Chairman: Mr Bremner, to complete this picture, how many hours—and perhaps I have missed it—Irish language programmes do you do?

  Mr Bremner: We do not do any Irish language programmes, Chairman.

  Q749  Chairman: At all?

  Mr Bremner: What we have done in the past is we have produced Irish language programmes with TG Ceathair, and we have also produced Irish language programmes for network ITV schools, but we do not do any Irish language programmes and we have no plans to do Irish language programmes. The way that we contribute is if we get commissions we will employ people with competence in the Irish language, or people who wish to become competent producers in the Irish language. But effectively the programmes that we showed on UTV simply did not secure the audience we need, when we are making programmes—

  Q750  Chairman: You did try?

  Mr Bremner: Yes, we did.

  Q751  Chairman: What was the result?

  Mr Bremner: The take-up was lower than we actually can sustain.

  Q752  Chairman: Can you remember what the audience figures were?

  Mr Bremner: We did three series, we did a couple of documentaries—and this is now eight years ago—and their performance was at about 20 per cent of the level that we expect. That is not the sole criteria but it is an important criterion, of course. We did an animation series where we re-voiced Thomas The Tank Engine and there was a poor up-take on that, and there was a poor uptake on the scripts that we made available. It was very novel at that stage but in a commercial channel, to be straightforward about it, no matter what subject you are covering you need to generate a larger audience.

  Q753  Chairman: And basically you are not going to do it?

  Mr Bremner: We are not.

  Q754  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Can I ask a slightly odd question? You said that you made a film. Would you consider sub-titling?

  Mr O« Ciardha: We sub-title everything; we sub-title everything we make in Irish into English, to make the programming accessible.

  Q755  Lord Maxton: Does that include sport, because you have mentioned sport several times?

  Mr O« Ciardha: Anything.

  Q756  Lord Maxton: What sports do you show?

  Mr O« Ciardha: The Gaelic Games; the rugby we have just lost the contract to the Celtic League, which was a huge unexpected success for us. People do not associate the Irish language with rugby playing, strangely enough, in Ireland, but we secured the rights to that in its opening two seasons, and it was very successful. We did Spanish soccer and we did Scottish soccer for a year. Most of the games—golf, horse racing—most of the major sports that we can afford to buy rights to, which is getting more difficult.

  Q757  Lord Maxton: You say you used sub-titling. Having once tried to watch a rugby match being shown by S4C I have to say I found it a slightly weird experience because there was no English and I could not fathom who they were talking about.

  Mr O« Ciardha: Live sub-titling poses a particular challenge and nearly all of our sports are live. I have to say that we expected when we started, particularly in rugby which would not have a natural hinterland of Irish language supporters, to get quite an amount of flak of people saying, "You cannot sub-title that." We got none for the two years we were in it. People I think just—

  Q758  Lord Maxton: Watch the game.

  Mr O« Ciardha: Watch the game. Sport has its own spectators.

  Q759  Lord Maxton: The people watching it know what is going on anyway. Digital switchover. I think we are aware in the north that the north is now 100 per cent broadband, which some people think is the future, not terrestrial. What about the south? How far down the road in terms of broadband are you?

  Ms Galvin: Getting there. There is a lot of fibre optic in the ground. There probably is not the concerted effort by one or two, let us say, national players to get it to such a level that the speeds would be video enabled. So IPTV is still some way, probably in the five to ten year, possibly 12-year timeframe. But that said, if there were a buyer of Eircom in the near future that could turn it all around.

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