Wales politics

Welsh language group's 'manifesto' call after census

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Media captionJill Evans MEP addressed the crowd in Caernarfon and talked about the challenges for the language ahead

The Welsh Language Society - Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg - has called for a new raft of measures to safeguard the language.

It follows a recorded drop in the number of Welsh speakers in Wales in the 2011 census results published on Tuesday.

The figures now suggest that Welsh is a minority language in two heartlands, Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion.

Around 300 people attended a rally in Caernarfon to launch the campaign.

Under the title 'Living Manifesto', the society is calling for changes to planning rules, education, and Welsh language use in the public sector.

It says it also wants the Welsh government to quadruple the amount invested in developing and protecting the language.

"This manifesto is a positive programme of work which could change the fate of our unique national language," insisted the society's chair, Robin Farrar, ahead of the rally in Caernarfon on Saturday.

"There's no point sitting back and accepting the census results.

"We believe it's the wish of an increasing number of people in Wales to live in a country where we can all live our lives in Welsh; we also understand that ensuring the strength of Welsh language communities is the only way to realise that vision.

"What's needed now is the political will to realise the ambition of people around the country."

The census figures published on Tuesday recorded an overall drop of 2% in the number of people who speak Welsh in Wales, to 562,016. That represents 19% of the population in Wales.

In the two historical Welsh-speaking heartlands of Carmarthenshire and Ceredigion - the drop was far more marked.

In Carmarthenshire, 43.9% of the population aged over three said they could speak Welsh in 2011, down from 50.3% in 2001 and 54.9% in 1991

In Ceredigion it was 47.3% in 2011, down from 52% in 2001.

Schools, jobs, homes

Under its new campaign, the Welsh Language Society says it wants to see current planning systems "transformed", and to take account of challenges posed by both those moving into Wales - and also leaving the country.

It is also calling for Welsh to be made an essential skill for public sector workers, and an education system "where every pupil leaves school completely fluent in the language".

"We have been discussing some of these idea for months amongst our membership, but we have been reviewing everything in light of the Census results," added the society's chair.

"We recognise the seriousness of the situation, so we are opening up our ideas for a discussion and hope to engage people across the country."

Some of the themes raised by the society were also picked-up by the Welsh Language Commissioner, Meri Huws, in her response to the census figures.

In her official capacity as the regulator on Welsh language issues for the government and other public bodies, she described the census results as the alarm clock ringing "very loudly" on the language issue.

"The housing market, migration and employment are the factors that have led to the Welsh language losing ground in the western counties," she said.

"As statutory standards are imposed on local authorities, I will be requiring them to consider the effects on the Welsh language of every policy decision that they make."

In the wake of the census findings. the Welsh government has pointed to its five-year strategy, A living language: a language for living, launched in March, which included encouraging the use of Welsh in social media, as well as within families and in the community.

A spokesman added that this recognised the "fragile state of the language" and looked to promote its use across all walks of life.

It said it census figures needed detailed analysis and the government looked forward to "working with all who have an interest in the future of the Welsh language to ensure its long-term sustainability".

Plaid Cymru AM for Arfon Alun Ffred Jones, who was the minister responsible for language from 2008 to 2011, said the census was a "wake-up call" for the language.

He said it faced cultural and peer pressures, including anglo-American entertainment geared towards young people.

Mr Jones said there was a consensus within the political parties about the language but this could lead to a "conspiracy of silence", he said.

A way forward would be to make sure that people have the skills in place to ensure that public servants are bilingual, he said.

That would mean that training opportunities have to be made available, he added.

"Workforce planning and language planning needs to be embedded in local authorities, as the decline is sharper in areas where there is not that language planning."

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