THE rural housing crisis is threatening our future, claim activists from Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Isle of Man and Cornwall who have united in a cross-border plea over the survival of Celtic languages.

In an appeal aimed at authorities in each of those countries and territories, culture groups say housing market pressures and public policy is putting their languages at stake.

These include Scots Gaelic, Irish, Welsh, Manx and Cornish.

They’ve drawn up a Celtic Charter that asserts a “right to a home” for speakers of these languages in their geographical heartlands. However, they say high costs and the proliferation of holiday lets in rural areas means the tongues themselves may soon be driven from those areas.

The charter – or Cairt taigheadais Cheilteach in Gaelic and Siarter Tai Celtaidd in Welsh – is a collaboration between groups including Scotland’s Misneachd, its Irish equivalent Misneach and Cymdeithas of Wales.

It includes 11 different demands, including the introduction of a “punitive tax” on homes used for Airbnb lets, a statutory cap on the proportion of second or holiday homes within communities, rent management to match local earnings and “specific supports for minority language speakers to remain in their communities”.

“This issue has never been more important to the survival of Gaelic communities,” Skye architect Martainn Mac A’Bhaillidh of Misneachd told the Sunday National.

The National:

“I know loads of families working at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig and in the Western Isles who are raising Gaelic-speaking kids with little to no hope that they will be able to live in the community they grew up in. It’s a completely unsustainable situation.”

That research was published by the University of the Highlands and Islands in July and found Scots Gaelic was “at the point of collapse”, with vernacular Gaelic likely to die out within only a decade as a result of the factors including the “social and economic modernisation” of the islands and the arrival of “new social players” who do not have the language amongst the biggest issues.

According to the Charter, these are issues that cross Celtic regions. It states: “We as organisations representing the minority languages of the Celtic nations, declare that urgent action must be taken. The damage done to our languages ​​and their communities must be undone – including in some areas where our languages ​​are no longer spoken.

“Homelessness is increasing, with more and more people unable to afford to live in their native areas. We regret that this is a result of the policies of the devolved and central governments. They include austerity and decades of economic inequality that disadvantage our rural communities.

“We therefore call on our governments to adopt a series of policies to ensure that the people who live and work here ... can afford to stay in their communities.”

Bethan Roberts of Cymdeithas says it’s already making a difference where she is. “Our ideas from the housing charter have resonated with people in Wales,” she said.

“Some progressive parties have already stated that they will be implementing some of the policies into their manifestos for next year’s Welsh Senedd election.

“We were very inspired working across different language communities. In an increasingly connected society, it’s easier than ever to create these links and learn from each other and work together. We face similar challenges and believe that our voices can be strengthened by coming together.”

Mac A’Bhaillidh hopes the same will happen here, but he says chances have already been missed, such as the Airbnb restrictions proposed by Scottish Greens MSP Andy Wightman.

The National:

These failed to garner the backing of SNP and Tory members of the Scottish Parliament and, in an open letter released earlier this week, signatories including crofters and development officers claimed 40% of housing stock on both Tiree in the Inner Hebrides and West Harris in the Western Isles are holiday homes.

And while the provision of Gaelic-medium education has increased across the country, Mac A’Bhaillidh has little sympathy for the idea that indigenous speakers take their language with them when they move to areas where they are not spoken.

“Languages don’t survive without community around them,” he says. “They just don’t.

“There is very little evidence of languages surviving more than one or two generations in that context.

“There were 100,000 Irish-speaking people in Glasgow, where are they now?” he asks. “Millions of Irish speakers went to New York, where are they today?

“Whenever this housing issue is brought up there is a lot of hand-wringing – ‘what can we do?’

“In the Lake District, in the Channel Islands, in Cornwall and Norway and New Zealand we see action being taken to limit and set rules about who can buy a house where. It’s not that it can’t be done, it’s that there isn’t the will.”

A Scottish Government spokesperson said: “We recognise the importance of housing in areas of indigenous languages and the role that housing partnerships have in supporting these communities.  

“The Scottish Government is willing to work with all parties to support all communities.”