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In July 2014, Donegal North-West TD, Joe McHugh was appointed as Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs and Natural Resources at the Departments of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and Communications, Energy and Natural Resources. His appointment was met with much criticism as his knowledge of the Irish language was at best, at a basic level, yet was expected to be able to deal with and handle matters to do with the Irish language and Gaeltacht areas. Until his appointment, Joe McHugh was a backbencher, only really known in Donegal and of course in Offaly, the constituency of his wife, former Fine Gael TD, Olywn Enright. Minister McHugh was instructed by An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, to go and learn the language, starting with a summer course in Donegal. He began what he calls his re-immersion in the language, and this documentary follows his progress throughout the past year. At times amusing, this documentary gives an insight into learning Irish as an adult, with the added pressure of a very public deadline. It was the equivalent of doing his Irish oral exam in front of the whole country. The documentary criss-crosses the country, from the hills of Donegal to the shores of west Kerry, via Government Buildings.
Documentary on One - Fine Gaeilgeoir, narrated and produced by RTÉ News' Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh, brings the listener in the classroom alongside a struggling Joe McHugh, surrounded by people knowing that he's on a deadline. It explores the challenges of learning a language in adulthoood, whilst holding down a challenging brief. Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh travels alongside him, watching and listening as Minister McHugh navigates his way through grammar rules, declensions and dialects while dealing with constituency and parliamentary matters. We hear how his journey toward fluency had many bumps and challenges along the road. It also gives an insight into the life of a busy government minister, who is also a rural TD, as well as a father and husband.
In an exclusive interview with An Taoiseach Enda Kenny, he says that he has proven his critics wrong with the appointment. When asked why he appointed somebody who wasn't proficient in the language, An Taoiseach noted that Donegal would have been left without anybody in government if he hadn't replaced the outgoing Minister. Mr Kenny said he gave the job to Joe McHugh as 'he had been around for a while.'
Referring to Gaeltacht areas, Mr Kenny, acknowledged that there was pressure on the language but exclusive reservations were never going to happen and that people should feel pride that Minister McHugh learned the language, instead of being put out. This documentary was recorded over a year, where Joe McHugh, who in his own words says, he went from the bottom of the mountain and while he's not there yet, he is much closer to the top.
Narrated and Produced by Máire Treasa Ní Cheallaigh
Production Supervision by Sarah Blake
Sound Supervision by Mark McGrath
First broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1, 1pm Saturday 25th July 2015
An Irish radio documentary from RTÉ Radio 1, Ireland - Documentary on One - the home of Irish radio documentaries