Eoin Butler: writer, journalist and Mayoman of the Year

Tripping Along The Ledge


Response to An Bhfuil Tú Dáiríre?

This is my response to Caoimhin De Barra’s An Bhfuil Tú Dáiríre? video. I’ll start by making a couple of general observations, then I’ll get into specifics. I’d first note the discourtesy of Caoimhin using material from our video without asking permission. We would have given permission had it been asked. But it should have been asked.

Also, throughout his video, Caoimhin repeatedly emphasises that various points raised in my video have been made by others before me. I’m not sure why this is so important to him. I can only say that I’d personally never heard anyone make the vast majority of those points before. I wouldn’t have bothered making the video if I thought I was simply retreading old ground.

But, even if I had, even if some of the arguments I made have been made before, so what? What’s important is whether they have merit or not.


Caoimhin made this video in English. Why? Because, while many potential viewers do speak Irish, many others don’t. Whereas, everyone speaks English. So in terms of getting his message across, it made sense for him to do it entirely in English. Now apply that same logic to road safety signs. Boom!

Yes, road safety signs in Spain are in Spanish. And no, not every single person in Spain speaks Spanish. But the overwhelming majority of people there do. More so than any other language. Whereas in Ireland, the overwhelming majority of natives (and tourists) DO NOT speak Irish. They speak English.

I’ll skip past the part where Caoimhin appears to believe that I have x-ray vision and move on to perhaps the most absurd assertion in his entire video. That’s where he suggests that if it’s possible for a motorist (me) and his passenger (Paul) to miss two tiny road safety signs, then it doesn’t really matter what the third, larger sign says. On the contrary, I would suggest that’s all the more reason why EACH of these signs should be intelligible to as many people as possible.

(Incidentally Caoimhin… In this section, you question my honesty, and therefore my integrity as a journalist. Not just my integrity, but the director Paul Duane’s too. I want you to know, in the strongest possible terms, that I reject this accusation and I resent you for making it. I’m not a person of means. I cannot credibly threaten to sue you for defamation. But if you notice a certain lack of civility creeping into proceedings here, then maybe apply your sleuthing skills to figuring out where that enmity might stem from.)


Caoimhin draws parallels here between the French and Irish languages. That’s a stretch. If one of the tens of millions of EU citizens who speak French, and only French, wishes to access an EU document, they’re entitled to expect that they can do so. But Irish is only spoken by about 5% of the population of one of the smallest countries in the EU. And ALL of those people are already far more fluent in English than they are in Irish. So there’s no equivalence whatsoever. The translation costs are entirely wasted catering to the needs of a constituency which, whether you like it or not, does not exist.


The entire video is an exercise in whataboutery. But this particular section contains some Zen level whataboutery. What does anything Caoimhin says here have to do with the point I was making? He talks about Irish dramas that are historically inaccurate because they’re made in English. I can’t think of which ones he’s talking about. But surely he recognises that shooting such a drama in English would not necessarily indicate a bias against Irish. TV and film makers tend to make dramas in languages their audiences understand. Once again, I would remind Caoimhin that he chose to make this video in English for precisely that reason.

I used Corp + Anam to illustrate the point that make-believe pervades Irish language policy at every level. I talked about TDs passing laws in a language they can neither speak nor read. I talked about heterosexual marriage almost being banned by accident in Ireland. I talked about people getting off drink driving offenses because the results of the breath alcohol test didn’t come with an Irish translation. He’s talking about Star Wars..!?


I’m reminded here of the television series The People Vs. O.J. Simpson. Not because this is riveting entertainment. But rather because it calls to mind how O.J.’s defence team, rather than dispute the prosecution’s case, preferred instead to bamboozle and pettifog the jury by introducing reams and reams of extraneous additional evidence that really were beside the point. It’s amazing to me that he could argue against me so interminably without really contradicting anything I said.

Eight minutes in. Seventeen to go. Jesus, break my fall…


No, Hebrew wasn’t revived entirely from scratch in 1948. Yes, the effort had been underway on a much smaller scale for a couple of decades before that. But to say the successful revival of Hebrew wasn’t due to the foundation of the Israeli state? Come off it. I’m not even going to waste my time. I’m not against Irish. I’m against kids who don’t want to learn it being forced to do so. I didn’t falsify any information. I just didn’t include every single possible extraneous piece of information I might have done. It’s called editing. You may have heard of it. (Or, then again, possibly not…)


“On the video, it looked like Butler was doing research on a computer that had all these translation figures before him. Why didn’t he simply add those up and tell us the cost? The answer is that he is bluffing…”

On the video, I was pretending to read a doc we’d prepared because that’s what they make you do when you’re shooting these things. The scrolling was fake. But the doc was real. It was prepared by our researcher Craig Hughes using FOI requests to 150 state agencies. The reason I didn’t give the total figure is because the video was a pitch for a longer documentary we hope to make. A lot of work went into that research and I didn’t want to give the farm away that easily.

Also, FOI results only include the amount state agencies paid to private translators. They don’t include the cost of EU translations, equally pointless in-house civil service translations or live translation services in the Dail and EU parliament. (And for the record, assigning a state employee to perform a pointless task IS a waste of resources. We’ll come back to that in a moment.)

Last year alone, the EU hired 62 additional Irish translators at a starting salary of €52,608 each. Leaving out the generous travel and accommodation allowances these translators also receive, that alone amounts to €3,314,304 in new salaries per annum. The EU plans to add another 118 Irish language translators by the end of 2021. If Caoimhin thinks translation costs don’t run into the tens of millions per annum, he is sorely mistaken.


I’m the first to admit that Dr. Ed Walsh’s method of calculating the government’s spend on Irish is not especially sophisticated. No one knows the true figure and it may indeed be impossible ever to work it out. But if Dr Walsh’s approach to calculating it is imperfect, Caoimhin’s is perfectly imbecilic.

He says “I have an estimate here that I want to share with you. Although to be clear, when I say how much do we spend, I specifically mean money that is currently spent on Irish language projects that could be taken and repurposed in any that the taxpayer wishes.” And on that bizarre technicality, he somehow manages to discount the notion that the government spends ANY MONEY WHATSOEVER on Irish in education.

(Even if you were to accept his logic, that still ignores the fact the money spent on Irish could be repurposed within the education system teaching kids art, music, IT or Mandarin Chinese, or any other subject they might prefer to study.)

Now, consider the following thought experiment. Choose any subject we can all agree would be a waste of time and resources to force our children to study for thirteen years: alchemy, Pokémon Go, Dianetics, the wit and wisdom of Marty Whelan… Whichever you like. (I’m not comparing the merits of studying Irish to the merits of studying these subjects. This is just a thought experiment.) Now assume our government has spent four year training every single primary school teacher in the country, and a fair proportion of secondary teachers, to instruct our children that subject. Furthermore, that we require every student up to Leaving Cert to spend 4-5 hours a week in class time studying that subject and that we pay the wages of the teachers who teach these classes. Presumably, we can all agree that would be a massive waste of time and resources.

Yet, if Caoimhin’s defence of mandatory Irish (that the money it costs us wouldn’t be saved if the law were scrapped) is to be accepted as valid, then exactly the same argument could be used to justify continued mandatory lessons in alchemy, Pokémon Go, Dianetics or the wit and wisdom of Marty Whelan. Indeed if a critic of this imagined policy were to ask how much money the state spent per annum forcing kids to learn alchemy, Pokémon Go, Dianetics or the wit and wisdom of Marty Whelan, the correct answer, by Caoimhin’s logic, would be zero.

Take it a step further. If a government minister were to take all of the civil servants in his or her department out of their offices and put them to work carrying out repairs and improvements on the minister’s family home, that would not be judged a misallocation of resources by Caoimhin’s logic, since the money it cost the taxpayer would not be saved if the practice were ended.

And this is the bottom line. Nowhere in his entire video does Caoimhin dispute the notion that our government wastes mind-boggling amounts of teachers’ and students’ time, as well as taxpayers’ money, pointlessly teaching Irish to students who don’t want to learn the language and never will. All he does is quibble over the precise figure. That’s my final word on this topic. Please don’t copy me in on ANY more tweets on this subject. After four months, I’m done with it.