It will take 100 years for 1% of public service to be fluent in Irish, Sinn Féin claims

Government dealing with problems that have grown over 40 years, Minister insists

“Broken Irish is better than clever English”

“Broken Irish is better than clever English”

Thu, Mar 6, 2014, 11:27

It will take 100 years for 1 per cent of the public service to be able to provide services in Irish at the current rate of implementation of the Government’s Irish language strategy, it has been claimed.

Sinn Féin’s Gaeltacht Affairs spokesman Peadar Tóibín said that based on 300 public sector workers currently attending Irish language classes it would be a century before just 1 per cent of the public service had sufficient fluency in Irish to provide service in the language to the public.

But Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Dinny McGinley insisted the opposite was the case. He said that some 185 language learning schemes were in place, 165 were in place last year and 16 new schemes this year.

He said the Government was dealing with 121 other public bodies in relation to language skills and he told Mr Tóibín “you must agree this is an improvement”.

He said that in every Government Department there were officials with a high standard of Irish but they were in a section to deliver that service for people who wanted to deal with the State through Irish.

The Minister said during arts, heritage and Gaeltacht affairs questions in the Dáil that the problem had “come up over 40 years” and they were working since the Government came to office to implement new policies.

He was being questioned about the Irish language schemes for public sector workers and the lack of provision of services through Irish for members of the public who wished to engage with the State through Irish.

Fianna Fail’s spokesman on Gaeltacht affairs Micheal Kitt highlighted the recent public demonstration by thousands of citizens protesting against the lack of services through Irish. Mr Kitt said one woman spoke of sending a letter in Irish to the HSE but receiving a reply in English. The Minister said that “if you write a letter in Irish you should get a reply in Irish and that’s the way it should be and that’s the way it must be”.

But he told the House that while the Department had responsibility for the introduction of the language schemes and it was part of the 20 year language strategy to increase the number of officials who can function bilingually, he had no role in dealing with public bodies. That was a function of the Irish Language Commissioner.

Mr Tóibín said the Government was behaving illegally in its approach to the provision of Irish language services. It was like going for an NCT test and being told there was a problem with the tyres, but responding that “we will fix it over time”.

He told the Minister “you must do what the law says”.

Mr Kitt said the number of complaints to the Irish language commissioner was increasing, from 734 in 2011 to 757 in 2012. The complaints were from across the State and 26 per cent were from within the Gaeltacht.

The Minister told him it was “a good thing that complaints are coming in from the public because it shows the demand for Irish speakers”.

He said they had started a new process and small but important initiatives were taking place, including asking every public body to tell them how many of their staff could provide services through Irish.

The Sinn Féin spokesman said however that the Minister did not seem to realise “how angry people are that they cannot access public services through Irish”. There were 415 agencies which did not have a scheme in place and just 16 a year were starting. “This is going to take 25 years to have every agency involved,” he said adding that the Irish language commissioner had said it would take 28 years at current rates.

“The Irish language only has a few years of survival left as a community language in the Gaeltacht,” he warned.

But the Minister insisted that new initiatives were beginning and they were overcoming the problems that had grown up over 40 years. They had a special panel in place of people with a high standard of Irish and “for the first time positive steps are being taken”.