Irish ( Gaeilge ) is a Goidelic language of the Indo-European language family, originating in Ireland and historically spoken by the Irish. Irish is now spoken natively by only a small minority of the Irish population - mostly in parts of officially designated Gaeltachtaí (sing. Gaeltacht ) - but still has a visible symbolic role in the life of the Irish state. It enjoys constitutional status as the national and first official language of the Republic of Ireland and it is an official language of the European Union. Irish is also an officially recognised minority language in Northern Ireland.
Estimates of fully native speakers range from 20,000 to 50,000 people . The Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs estimated in 2007 that 17,000 people lived in areas where Irish was the community language, and a further 10,000 in areas where it is partly the community language. But since Irish is an obligatory subject in schools, many more are reasonably fluent second-language speakers. Furthermore, a much larger number regularly regard themselves as competent to some degree in the language: 1,656,790 (41.9% of the total population aged three years and over) regard themselves as competent Irish speakers. Of these, 538,283 (32.5%) speak Irish on a daily basis, 97,089 (5.9%) weekly, 581,574 (35.1%) less often, 412,846 (24.9%) never, and 26,998 (1.6%) didn't state how often. Today, complete monolingualism is almost unheard of, and probably restricted to the very elderly in Gaeltacht regions and to native speakers under school age.
The number of inhabitants of the official-designated Gaeltacht regions of Ireland is 91,862, as of the 2006 census. Of these, 70.8% aged three and over speak Irish and approximately 60% speak Irish on a daily basis.
The 2001 census in Northern Ireland showed that 167,487 (10.4%) people "had some knowledge of Irish". Combined, this means that around one in three people (~1.8 million) on the island of Ireland can understand Irish to some extent.
On 13 June 2005, EU foreign ministers unanimously decided to make Irish an official language of the European Union. The new arrangements came into effect on 1 January 2007, and Irish was first used at a meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, by Minister Noel Treacy, T.D., on 22 January 2007.