Government reversal follows ‘strong public support’ for Coimisinéir Teanga

Decision not to proceed with proposed amalgamation with Ombudsman follows consideration of public consultation

Sun, Apr 6, 2014, 14:03

Public opposition to the Government’s plan to merge the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman fed into the decision to reverse the planned move, according to a Government document published yesterday.

As with other Ombudsman offices, the position of An Coimisinéir Teanga is appointed by the President on the advice of the government following a resolution passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas. The Coimisinéir’s office is charged with monitoring compliance by public bodies with the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003.

The proposed merger, announced in December 2011 as part of the Government’s public sector reform programme, was heavily criticised by language activists at the time and was the subject of a growing campaign over the treatment by Governments north and south of Irish-language speakers and Gaeltacht communities.

A public consultation process was subsequently held to gauge opinion on the provision of State services in Irish as part of the review of the Official Languages Act. The consultation process identified significant degrees of dissatisfaction with the quality and availability of services in Irish and measured views on the future of the Coimisinéir Teanga’s office.

A summary of recommendations was published yesterday as part of the Heads of Bill for the revised Official Languages’ Act.

Submissions included recommendations that judges dealing with the Irish-language community should be able to communicate in Irish; that Irish language training should be provided for An Garda Síochána; that free Irish classes should be provided to State employees who do not have competency in Irish and that officials dealing with Gaelscoileanna should have Irish.

Submissions regarding the Office of the An Coimisinéir Teanga ranged from those who suggested retaining the office as an independent office to a recommendation for it to be abolished.

The Heads of Bill published by Minister of State Dinny McGinley yesterday outlined the Government’s decision to reverse its earlier decision.

“Following further consideration of the proposed amalgamation of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga with the Office of the Ombudsman, and having regard to the results of the public consultation process which indicated strong support for maintaining the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga as a fully independent entity, the Government has decided not to proceed with the proposed amalgamation,” it read.

The reversal was welcomed by the newly-appointed Coimisinéir, Rónán Ó Domhnaill as “a sensible and practical decision”.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said: “The Government decision protects the independence of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga and it puts an end to any uncertainty regarding the status of the Office in the future.”

Conradh na Gaeilge also welcomed the decision.

“It is great news for the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community that today, the Government has finally listened to us and decided to retain the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga as a completely independent entity by not going ahead with the proposed merger with the Office of the Ombudsman.

“Everyone who supported the retention of an independent Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in the last two years deserves huge praise and credit,” said Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill, president of Conradh na Gaeilge.