Examination of Witnesses (Questions 740
WEDNESDAY 23 NOVEMBER 2005
Mr Allan Bremner, Ms Patricia Galvin and Mr Pa«dhraic
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
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.
Mr Bremner, to complete this picture, how many hoursand
perhaps I have missed itIrish language programmes do you
Mr Bremner: We do not do any Irish language
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
You did try?
Mr Bremner: Yes, we did.
What was the result?
Mr Bremner: The take-up was lower than we actually
Can you remember what the audience figures were?
Mr Bremner: We did three series, we did a couple
of documentariesand this is now eight years agoand
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.
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
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 gamesgolf, horse racingmost
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
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.