On January 1st of this year, under the continuing enlargement plans, Romania and Bulgaria acceded to the European Union. At the same time, the number of official EU languages was enlarged to 23, now including Romanian, Bulgarian – and Irish. The inclusion of the latter might seem to come at an odd time, given that the Republic of Ireland has been a member since January 1st, 1973, and Irish is its official language. Yet it was through English that the Republic handled its application to the Union.
To take some basic figures, Irish is spoken by less than half of the Republic’s population, whilst it is in daily use by only 5% ((A generous assessment, since this figure appears to include schoolchildren who use the language in class on a daily basis.)). To put this in some perspective, there may be more than twice as many Welsh speakers, while both of these Celtic tongues pale in comparison to Catalan, for example, with more than 7 million speakers. Ireland’s European commissioner, Charlie McCreevy, insists that Irish is central to Irish cultural identity, and its acceptance into the European fold has prompted calls for the inclusion of other minority languages ((Spain has already requested semi-official status for Catalan, Galician and Basque.)).