Report: Irish speakers a social and educational elite

The Irish Times - Gráinne Faller & Seán Flynn
9&10 Eanáir 2010

Irish is the language of the elite in Ireland with speakers of the language enjoying higher incomes than the rest of the population, according to a controversial new report. The report, compiled by researchers at the University of Ulster and the University of Limerick (UL), concludes Irish speakers are educated to a higher level and are less likely to be unemployed than people who have no Irish.

The main findings of the research published in the Economic and Social Review include;

- Non-speakers of Irish are twice as likely to be unemployed as their Irish-speaking counterparts;

- 42 per cent of Irish speakers worked in senior professional, managerial or technical jobs, compared to 27 per cent of non-speakers;

- Just 12 per cent of Irish speakers are in semi or unskilled jobs, compared to 20 per cent of non-speakers.

- Irish speakers were also seen to enjoy the advantage of a network of social contacts and all of the perks that go with such a network.

Prof Vani K Borooah of the University of Ulster said: ‘The strange thing about Irish speakers in Ireland is that many of them never speak Irish and of those that do, only a few speak it with any regularity.

‘However, we found that they have a considerable advantage in the labour market.’

The research team used data from the 2006 Census to examine whether Irish conferred any advantage on those who spoke it.

Surprisingly, for a language that is rarely spoken outside of the Gaeltacht, the report found these benefits were significant.

Those who spoke Irish frequently were even more likely to secure a well-paid job , according to the report. On education, some 25 per cent of Irish speakers hold a degree or a higher qualification, compared to 14 per cent of non-speakers. Only 9 per cent of Irish speakers had primary or no qualifications, compared to 22 per cent of their non-Irish speaking counterparts. The report says Gaelscoileanna have played a key role in raising educational attainment among Irish speakers. It cites the 2009 Irish Times Feeder Schools List where 22 per cent of Gaelscoileanna sent all their Leaving Cert students to third level, compared to a progression average of 7 per cent. Prof Borooah said Irish speakers in the Republic enjoy considerable social advantages as the language has been embraced by the middle and upper classes in the Republic. Researchers found Irish speakers in Northern Ireland enjoyed similar employment benefits to their counterparts in the Republic. In Northern Ireland, he said, learning Irish would generally be an opportunity enjoyed by Catholics at the upper end of the socio-economic scale in Northern Ireland.

He said the study was the first systematic investigation of any advantage enjoyed by Irish speakers on the island of Ireland.