Irish Language Commissioner received record complaints last year

NUI Maynooth and Dun Laoghaire council among public bodies to breach language act

An investigation found that the National University of Ireland, Maynooth had breached statutory language obligations by displaying the name of the public body in English only, along with the University’s crest, on its headed stationery.

An investigation found that the National University of Ireland, Maynooth had breached statutory language obligations by displaying the name of the public body in English only, along with the University’s crest, on its headed stationery.

 

The highest number of complaints made to An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Irish Language Commissioner) since the office was established in 2004 was received in 2016, new figures show.

The 13th annual report published by An Coimisinéir Teanga on Tuesday shows that the office of Rónán Ó Domhnaill received 768 complaints during 2016, up from the 755 recorded in 2015.

The highest number of complaints came from those living in Dublin (45 per cent)while some 20 per cent of complaints derived from Gaeltacht areas.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said it was “significant” that the number of complaints was at its highest since the office was founded.

“It shows greater public awareness of language rights and also indicates a willingness by people to contact the office of the Coimisinéir Teanga when they feel their rights are not being recognised,” he said.

He also said it highlights the “enduring difficulties” faced by those seeking to access satisfactory State services through Irish.

Mr Ó Domhnaill said the report also demonstrates shortcomings by some public bodies “when it comes to meeting their obligations under the languages act.”

He added that it was likely that for every complaint registered with his office by a member of the public, that many more faced similar issues.

Among those in breach were NUI Maynooth which displayed the name of the public body in English only, along with the University’s crest, on its headed stationery. An investigation found that Dún Laoghaire–Rathdown County Council was in breach of the statutory language provision enshrined in the Official Languages Act after a member of the public complained that he had contacted the Council in respect of signs and street nameplates which contained incorrect placenames , but that he had not received any response from the Council.

An increase from 21.6 per cent to 27.6 per cent was recorded in the percentage of complaints relating to the use of Irish on public bodies’ signage and stationery.

Language schemes

A third of the complaints lodged with the office in 2016 related to individuals who said their interactions with the State were compromised due to departmental failures to implement Irish language schemes.

Irish language schemes were introduced under the Official Languages Act in 2003 to ensure that some services in State agencies, government departments, county councils and local authorities would be made available in Irish.

This includes services such as websites, on-line systems, application forms and interpersonal services.

Of the 116 language schemes in place in 2016, 55 had expired by year-end.

“This meant that, in the absence of a second or third language scheme, no additional commitments in relation to improved services in Irish were required of those public bodies.”

In April, Mr Ó Domhnaill published an analysis of the language scheme system in which he said it “more often than not weakens and reduces the provision of State services through Irish.”

He concluded the language scheme system had failed in its purpose and had to be urgently replaced.

Mr Ó Domhnaill welcomed as “highly significant” the provisions of the recently published new heads of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill - which includes a provision to replace the existing language scheme system with a regulations-based system.

Recruitment

Mr Ó Domhnaill points out in the report that “without focusing on the troubling issue of recruitment, any talk or effort to improve the provision of State services in Irish will be in vain.”

He said the provision of satisfactory services in Irish is dependent upon sufficient numbers of Irish speakers being employed in the public service.

“There is no point talking about the availability of services in Irish unless the public service has enough staff to provide these services,” he said.

Welcoming the inclusion of a proposal in the heads of the Official Languages Bill that 20 per cent of new recruits into the public service must have Irish, Mr Ó Domhnaill said this should “give hope to the Irish language community that an improved standard of service in Irish will be forthcoming from the Public Service”.

Examples:

NUI Maynooth: An investigation found that the National University of

Ireland, Maynooth had breached statutory language obligations by displaying the name of the public body in English only, along with the University’s crest, on its headed stationery.

Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown CC: An investigation found that Dún Laoghaire–

Rathdown County Council was in breach of the statutory language provision enshrined in the Official Languages Act after a member of the public complained that he had contacted the Council in respect of signs and street nameplates which contained incorrect placenames in December 2013 and again in May and June 2015, but that he had not received any response from the Council.

Department of Education: An investigation found that the statutory language obligations encompassed the Education Act 1998 had been breached by the publication of the online newsletter NCGE News and the School Guidance Handbook in English only.

Fáilte Ireland: An investigation found it was necessary for photopoints which Fáilte Ireland had erected at various points along the Wild Atlantic Way had to to be in accordance with regulations under the Official Languages Act.

Percentage of complaints by type:

Provision of language scheme 32.8%

Lack of Irish on signage and stationary 27.6%

Lack of Irish on road signs 11.2%

Problem with use of name/and or address in Irish 8.2%

Replies in English to correspondence in Irish 7.6%

Other enactments relating to the use or status of Irish 2.1%

Publication of certain documents 1.8%

Gaeltacht placenames 1.0%

Difficulty with recognition for Irish in recruitment competitions 1.0%

Other 6.7%