What is the future for the Irish language when fewer people are using it on a daily basis?

Irish language academic Donncha Ó hEallaithe says that in the areas of the Gaeltacht where Irish is still used, it is becoming weaker as a means of communication, with teenagers in particular rejecting the language.

Outside of the Gaeltacht areas, the language is less vulnerable and the number of urban speakers is rising. Irish has also been given a boost by the popularity of TG4 programmes like 'Ros na Rún' and the Gaelscoileanna movement.

Volunteers keep Raidió na Life on the air 16 hours a day so clearly there is a significant interest in Irish. Station manager Fionnuala Mac Aodha says

The more we become involved with a homogenised Europe, I think people realise how important it is to have their own culture and their own language.

Sult is an Irish language club based in Dublin city and its fortnightly gatherings regularly attract up to 200 people who are learning or wish to speak Irish. Sult founder Éamonn Ó Dónaill is encouraged by the numbers of people enrolling in Irish language classes at home and abroad.

Irish is not a language of the state and access to services through Irish is difficult but momentum is growing to have it recognised as an official working language of the European Union.

Donncha Ó hEallaithe believes it would be more beneficial to have Irish used as working language in Ireland among state institutions.

That is what will secure the future of the language rather than securing a status for it in Europe where really Irish people do not expect to be doing much business.

Seachtain na Gaeilge organisers are delighted their events have attracted record crowds. Good will alone towards its success is not enough to ensure survival and experts say it is time to take a serious look at the Irish language.

An RTÉ News report broadcast on 15 March 2004. The reporter is Sharon Ní Bheoláin.