Should Irish be a requirement for the Presidency of NUI Galway?

Tá mé an-bhródúil as an ollscoil ar fhreastail mé air — Ollscoil na hÉireann, Gaillimh, nó UCG mar ab fhearr aithne air nuair a bhain mise mo chéim amach. Ba mhór an taitneamh agus tairbhe a bhain mé as na deiseanna a tugadh dom freastal ar chúrsaí Gaeilge sa choláiste agus in Áras Mháirtín Uí Chadhain ar an gCeathrú Rua. Cúis díomá dom, mar sin, gur athraigh údaráis an choláiste a gcuid rialacha ó thaobh na Gaeilge de le déanaí agus nach gcreideann siad a thuilleadh gur chóir go mbeadh Gaeilge ag uachtarán an choláiste — fiú na cúpla focal féin.

As a member of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, I took part in questioning the President of NUI Galway, Prof James Browne, and his colleagues about their decision to drop the requirement that future Presidents of the University must have proficiency in the Irish language.

Universities are operating in a very competitive environment and it is understandable that they wish to attract as many talented people as possible, nationally and internationally, into leadership roles. But NUI Galway has always had a particular responsibility to protect and promote the Irish language, and it receives taxpayers’ money to help it do so (by funding its Acadamh na hOllscolaíochta Gaeilge, for example).

At our Oireachtas Committee hearing of 4th April 2017, I asked Prof Browne whether they had considered making it a requirement that the successful future candidate for College President would acquire some proficiency in Irish within a certain timescale. His initial response was that they were advised that this would not be possible. But on closer examination it emerged that this was ‘HR advice’. No legal advice had been sought.

The post of President of NUI Galway will attract a salary that most people could never dream of. Given the importance of the Irish language to our national life, the culture and ‘feel’ of Galway where you’ll often hear Irish spoken on the streets, and the many official engagements at which the College President will be called on to speak, it’s little enough to require that he or she does a ‘cúrsa Gaeilge’. Come on!

The Committee debate is available here.