Highland councillors urged to take Gaelic classes

Only 5 of the 80 councillors in the Highlands speak Gaelic. Picture: TSPL
Only 5 of the 80 councillors in the Highlands speak Gaelic. Picture: TSPL
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COUNCILLORS in the Highlands are being urged to take the tarbh (bull) by the cabars (horns) – and learn Gaelic.

• Just 5 of 80 Highland councillors speak Gaelic

• Only 10 have signed up for basic Gaelic classes

• Some councillors say speaking Gaelic when on council business is unnecessary

The local authority is behind a campaign to promote Gaelic, but a paltry five of Highland Council’s 80 members can speak the language.

Only ten have signed up for a class being held today as part of the council’s Gaelic language plan to encourage councillors and staff to learn the basics.

The half-day class, which is costing the council £350, will look at how to use the language during meetings, on the phone and when greeting people at

official events.

Councillors will also be encouraged to use “small amounts” of Gaelic in letters and e-mails.

A council spokeswoman said: “It is about giving an overview of words and phrases which can help increase the profile, visibility and status of the language.”

Kenneth Murray, the Gaelic development manager, said councillors often sought help with certain phrases to greet people or use at meetings.

He said the training was the “first few steps” in raising the language’s profile.

“It is a new course,” he said. “It is about giving an overview of words and phrases which could be used during meetings by councillors. These are a few words which can help increase the profile, visibility and status of the language. Learning the language is another step.”

Councillors keen to develop their skills further are being encouraged to sign up for distance learning at Gaelic college Sabhal Mor Ostaig on Skye.

The course is also being rolled out to local authority staff in

Inverness, Ross-shire, Lochaber, the Far North, Skye and Loch­alsh.

Hamish Fraser, chairman of the authority’s Gaelic implementation group, said he hoped many of his colleagues would attend the class.

“It is a good opportunity, and I regularly greet people in Gaelic at the council,” he said. “We have had good interest.”

Margaret Paterson said the class was a “tremendous idea”. She described Dingwall Community Centre caretaker Donald MacAskill, who greets visitors in Gaelic, as a great role model.

“The solution would be to have a Donald MacAskill in every office in the area,” the councillor said. “You get a welcome from him in Gaelic every time you go, and the public look forward to it. I see people who never used to use Gaelic, Donald welcomes them and they respond back.”

But two Caithness councillors do not believe learning the language is relevant to their roles.

Neil MacDonald, of Wick, said he was in favour of promoting Gaelic, but felt that asking councillors to talk in the language was a step too far.

He said: “I welcome any initiative which involves keeping the language alive as part of the Gaelic language plan.

“My father was a fluent Gaelic speaker. Unfortunately, I do not speak the language, but I think that asking councillors to speak Gaelic during council business is not necessary. I wasn’t aware of the proposal, and while I do not take any exception to councillors who wish to take part, I personally feel there is no need for it.”

Thurso councillor Roger Saxon, who speaks French, German and Italian, said he was one of the few councillors in Caithness who did not object to bilingual road signs, but he added that asking elected representatives to learn Gaelic was not relevant to carrying out council business.

He said: “I will not be taking part in any Gaelic class, as I don’t feel it is relevant to how I work as a councillor. For councillors who work in a Gaelic-speaking population, it is relevant, but as a Caithness councillor – where the language is spoken by very few people – I do not feel there is a need for us to learn.”

The course is tutored by the broadcaster and writer Ruairidh MacLean. The £350 cost comes from Highland Council’s Gaelic budget.