Language groups welcome Government’s announcement on commissioner’s independence
Concerns still remain over legislation
Two major Irish-language groups, Gael Linn and Conradh na Gaeilge, have today welcomed the Government’s decision not to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman. Chief Executive of Gael Linn, Mr Antoine Ó Coileáin, said that it was the right decision but he was still concerned that “the proposal to dovetail the publication of the annual report and accounts of An Coimisnéir Teanga seems to be designed to limit his access to the Houses of the Oireachtas with the attendant opportunity to highlight his work”.
He said that the Government’s Heads of Bill for a revised Official Languages’ Act, also published today, gave “an opportunity to learn from the first 10 years of the Act and to plan for the needs of a bilingual society. The office of An Coimisnéir Teanga must then be resourced appropriately to do its work”.
He had doubts over the proposed new “language schemes”, that is, agreed plans by which departments and organisations provide services through Irish for the public: “The extension of the duration of schemes from three to seven years is a major cause for concern. Unless a system of regular audit inspections and reports is put in place, there is a danger that public bodies will simply forget about their responsibilities for an even longer period of time. Furthermore, the extension of time would require language planning of a different level and existing schemes must not be given a four year extension which would, in effect, amount to an amnesty.”
President of Conradh na Gaeilge, Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill, said that it was “great news for the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community that the Government has finally listened to us and decided to retain the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga as a completely independent entity... Everyone who supported the retention of an independent office in the last two years deserves huge praise and credit”.
Nonetheless, they also believed that the Government needed to include certain provisions in the new language legislation if they were serious about strengthening the rights of Irish speakers in the Gaeltacht and outside it: new regulations to guarantee State services to the Gaeltacht community through Irish by the end of 2016; a new system to be developed to replace the schemes that have “been in place but not functioning as it should”; the Language Commissioner to be given a monitoring role in the implementation of the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language and regulations to provide for a specific number of people in every public body who would be proficient in Irish.