Irish language legislation 'in crisis'
IRISH LANGUAGE Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has warned that one of the most fundamental elements of the State’s language legislation is now in “crisis”.
Even the Government department responsible for the language – the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht – has no updated formal scheme for implementing key elements of the Official Languages Act.
The offices of the President and the Ombudsman are among those public bodies whose language schemes expired more than three years ago, and two-thirds of all public bodies have no scheme, Mr Ó Cuirreáin confirmed in his annual report as An Coimisinéir Teanga, published yesterday in Galway.
The report notes a 5 per cent rise in complaints about problems dealing with State services through the medium of Irish, with 734 new complaints in all.
The Garda Síochána was among the bodies at fault, when an investigation found that eight of nine gardaí assigned to service in Gweedore in the Donegal Gaeltacht weren’t able to carry out their duties through Irish.
A formal inquiry by Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s office found that the Garda Commissioner had failed to comply in this case with a provision of the Garda Síochána Act 2005.
This provision requires members of the force stationed in the Gaeltacht to be sufficiently competent in Irish to use it with ease in carrying out their duties. A further statutory provision of the Garda’s language scheme under the Official Languages Act was also breached, Mr Ó Cuirreáin noted.
The inquiry was initiated in February 2011 after a native Irish speaker complained he was unable to conduct his business through Irish with gardaí in Gweedore. The inquiry was set aside temporarily when Garda authorities increased to three the number of Irish speakers assigned to the station. However, when no further progress was reported, the inquiry resumed and a formal finding of non-compliance was made by An Coimisinéir Teanga in December 2011.
The Garda has nine months to comply with recommendations made by Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s office. He noted that there were potential legal issues for the Garda if an individual wished to challenge the validity of a non-Irish-speaking officer who was assigned to a Gaeltacht area.
About half of the 734 new complaints filed last year came from Dublin city and county and some 21 per cent from Gaeltacht areas. The vast majority of complaints were resolved without resorting to statutory investigations.
Examples of such cases including road signage in English only, even in Gaeltacht areas; misspelling Irish words on signage; responding in English to letters sent in Irish; and using English versions of Irish-language names.
“Human error” was cited as the excuse in a case where a public body issued a response in English to a communication in Irish to the same customer for the second successive year, after a system had been put in place the previous year to ensure this wouldn’t recur.
The Department of Social Protection is the focus of a special report laid by the commissioner before the Houses of the Oireachtas, having failed to take corrective action when found in breach of statutory language provisions.
The Garda Press Office said that the findings had been “noted” and were “receiving attention”.