Gaelic is a switch-off as Irish prefer to go shopping

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The Independent Online
Eamon de Valera, who railed against rampant materialism and English imperialism throughout his time as taoiseach and then president of Ireland, must be turning in his grave. A new television station which is meant to be promoting the Irish language has become a sales platform for a British-based shopping channel.

Teilifis na Gaelige (TnaG) is giving airtime to the United Kingdom subsidiary of QVC, an United States-owned venture, because it does not have enough Gaelic programmes to fill its schedule. Also, it gets a commission on all sales generated by calls from Ireland. The sales pitch, pioneered in the US, is aired for one hour every weekday night and is said to have generated more than 3,000 calls.

Dr Colum Kenny, a lecturer in broadcasting at Dublin City University, is among those disturbed by the development. "It really seems bizarre to have any Irish channel, never mind a channel devoted to the Irish language, relaying an Anglo-American service which can only result in money flowing out of Ireland," he said.

TnaG's media spokesman and deputy chief executive, Padhraic O Ciardha, claims not to be embarrassed by the station's lapse into such materialism, pointing out that QVC was introduced to Irish cable subscribers some time back (then dropped due to a dispute between the channel and cable operators).

"QVC's inclusion on our schedule is very much of an experimental pilot nature and we wouldn't ever see it being at the core of our schedule," he said. "But it seems to be going down well and QVC has certainly been extremely surprised and gratified by the response from our viewers.

Mr O Ciardha added: "Some people may look down their noses at this phenomenon. But not everyone in Ireland has easy access to a shopping mall."

QVC's success will not shock anyone who has been monitoring socioeconomic trends in southern Ireland. Eire has dramatically shed its image as one of Europe's most backward regions to be hailed as the Emerald Tiger. It is enjoying an unprecedented consumer boom.

The Irish language - which used be to rammed down the throats of resentful schoolchildren in De Valera's Ireland - has become quite fashionable among the liberal elite, which was one reason why TnaG was established.

The station, whose headquarters are in Connemara on the west coast, cost IRpounds 16 million to set up and receives IRpounds 10m a year towards its running costs from the Irish Exchequer plus 360 hours of programming a year (worth IRpounds 5.5 million) from the established national broadcaster RTE.

Nevertheless, it can only afford to screen up to four and a half hours of Irish programmes a day, and has to supplement its core schedule with "down time" fillers. Most of these fit with the image the Irish like to project of themselves as a well-informed, outward-looking European nation. There is live coverage of Question Time in the Dail and each evening there is an hour-long programme called EuroNews. But none of these proud examples of public service broadcasting has made as much impact as QVC, the shopping channel.