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THE Government has blocked a move to ask every household in the UK if they speak Gaelic.

Gaelic development agency Comunn na Gaidhlig wanted the question added to April's census forms to find out the number of Gaelic speakers left.

The number is not only important to determine the health of the language, but also to justify the millions spent on saving it.

So CNAG asked Whitehall if it would include the question on forms in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

But the Government said it would only be - as previously - on Scottish census forms.

Allan Campbell of CNAG said: "There were fears that it would open the floodgates to questions about languages in the UK.

"There are now something like 324 languages spoken in London. If you chart Gaelic you could have to chart the others. It was felt that the census form was already bulky without adding to it further.

"We may look at a census using the Internet in the future."

Gaelic, once spoken in most of Scotland - but now limited to the Highlands and Islands - is still in decline despite more than pounds 50million of Government money.

The last census in 1991 showed 69,000 Gaelic speakers, but CNAG believe that has fallen below 60,000 - and some even predict the true figure is nearer 50,000.

CNAG want Gaelic given protective official status and its own digital TV channel.

Ironically, there is growing interest in Gaelic in North America - where many Gaels fled after the Clearances and in later emigration.

Mr Campbell added: "We have a maximum of 30 years to save Gaelic."
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Publication:Sunday Mirror (London, England)
Date:Feb 11, 2001
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