Leaked document shows reversal of Irish language obligations

Proposed changes to Official Languages Bill include end of Government requirement to publish policy documents in Irish

Screengrab of the Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley at the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language this afternoon.

Screengrab of the Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley at the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language this afternoon.

Thu, Mar 6, 2014, 17:01

The Government is planning to row back on provisions in legislation guaranteeing Irish speakers equal access to State services, according to a document seen by The Irish Times.

A revised draft Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 includes the removal of a provision requiring the publication in each of the official languages of documents setting out public policy proposals.

Citing the cost associated with the translation of documents as the reason for the amendment, an accompanying note says the move “will address one of the main concerns that have arisen in regards to the implementation costs associated with the Act”.

The draft also includes a proposal to extend the term of language schemes from 3 years to 7 years. Language schemes are currently reviewed after three years and an accompanying explanatory note says the proposed measure will “considerably lessen the administrative burden in drafting, agreeing and confirming language schemes.”

Under another heading, titled Irish names and postal addresses, the draft provides for the use by persons of the Irish language or English language “version” of their names and addresses when communicating with public bodies.

However, an accompanying note says this provision has potential practical implications as IT and other business systems used in the public sector may require a “lead-in” time prior to implementation.

Other measures listed in the draft legislation include an amendment allowing the Minister for the Gaeltacht to withdraw a notice to a public body requiring it to prepare a language scheme as well as the formal adoption of the 2011 decision to merge the Irish language Commissioner’s office with the office of the Ombudsman as part of the public sector reform programme.

The revision follows a period of public consultation during which 1,400 surveys were completed and 262 submissions were made.

Speaking at the Oireachtas sub-committee on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language today, Sinn Féin’s Trevor Ó Clochartaigh told Minister of State at the Department of the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley that he had seen the leaked heads of the Bill adding that those who had seen it believed it to be a “weakening” of existing legislation.

“Are these the heads of the Bill that you are considering and if so, have you discussed them with the incoming Coimisinéir Teanga - or have you told him of your intention to weaken the Official Languages Act,” Mr Ó Clochartaigh asked.

Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said the draft was “frightening” and questioned the basis for most of the proposed amendments.

Singling out the amendment providing for the use of Irish and English versions of names and addresses, Mr Ó Cuív said:

“I have to say that I always believed that no-one had the right to translate my name. I always thought that your name belonged to you yourself and that there was no right (for instance) to translate a Russian name into English.”

Most of the proposed amendments are “either technical or negative,” Mr Ó Cuív said.

Mr McGinley refused to comment on the leaked document saying it had to first come before Government.

“I don’t think I should have to come in here and discuss proposals that have not even come before Government. This has to go before Government in good time and when that is done and when the proposals have been accepted...we will be happy to come in here and discuss the proposals and then listen to your views.”

“There is no point in doing that now as nothing has been accepted by the Government in terms of amendments.”

Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge described the proposed changes to the Official Languages Bill as “disappointingly weak and wanting.”

Conradh na Gaeilge president Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill said the draft bill heads “completely disregard the needs of the Gaeltacht and Irish-speaking community.”

Mr Ó Cearbhaill said the proposed amendments include “nothing but cutbacks and a reneging on promises of increased provision of public services in Irish.”

“Since its inception, the language scheme system has produced weak schemes with the Government insisting that the schemes would be improved upon every 3 years.

“The draft bill heads recommend extending this time period to 7 years, which in turn would give the various Government departments even more time to evade their Irish-language responsibilities,” Mr Ó Cearbhaill said.