Details of the research by Donncha O hEalaithe, a language enthusiast and lecturer at the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, was published in the Foinse Irish-language newspaper showing that only 25 percent of households in 2001-02 were fluent in Irish.
He examined government statistics for Gaeltacht education grants. They are given to eligible households where the children use Irish as their main language.
O hEalaithe found about a quarter of the population of Gaeltacht dwellers lives in areas where Irish is being transmitted by one generation to the next by a majority of the households. About a fifth live in areas where there is a significant majority of parents speaking Irish to their children. However, more than half live in Gaeltacht areas, where there are only an isolated number of households using Irish.
“It is very difficult to justify why these areas have full Gaeltacht status,” O hEalaithe told RTE.
The language was strongest in Gaeltachts in northwest Donegal and Tory Island, the Aran Islands, South Connemara and West Kerry.
In those areas, more than 70 percent of households still use Irish as the main means of communication and are passing it on to children.
The Irish government should act on the recommendations of a commission on the language that suggested an independent board should be set up to review the status of Gaeltacht areas.
O hEalaithe said it is a “public scandal that so much public money, which is supposed to be for the preservation of Irish as a living community language, should be wasted in this way because the government is not willing to take the necessary action to actually draw the boundaries according to the realistic linguistic situation.”
He predicts that unless radical measures are taken, more communities will lose the language in the next 10 to 20 years.
It is an indictment of successive governments that at the foundation of the state there were 250,000 fluent Irish speakers living in Irish-speaking or semi-Irish-speaking areas, but the number now is between 20,000 and 30,000, he said.
Results from last year’s census have not yet been published but the 1996 census figures show more than 86,000 people living in Gaeltacht areas claimed to be fluent in the language.
Gaeltacht dwellers also receive extra grants and allowances for homes, clubs, and festivals.