‘Eiseamal’ or ‘Samplá’? Conflict over Irish traffic legislation

Translations of word ‘speciman’ could have had ‘serious legal consequences’

The request for the translation was made following a legal challenge to a drink-driving charge, taken on the basis that some road traffic legislation was not available in Irish . Photograph: Frank Miller

The request for the translation was made following a legal challenge to a drink-driving charge, taken on the basis that some road traffic legislation was not available in Irish . Photograph: Frank Miller

 

A conflict between two Irish translations of one word in road traffic legislation could have had serious legal consequences, documents released under the Freedom of Information Acts show.

The Oireachtas translation service, Rannóg an Aistricháin, and the Department of Transport were in conflict over the translation of the word “specimen” in road traffic legislation dealing with breathalyser tests.

Transport officials favoured “eiseamal”, while Rannóg believed the correct word was “samplá”.

Documents released by the Department of Transport show the row began in February 2015 when the Chief State Solicitor’s Office (CSSO) asked the Department of Transport to supply a translation of two statutory instruments (SIs). This included SI 541/2011, which dealt with breathalyser tests and was only in English, though it did have attached forms in both English and Irish.

The request was made because of a legal challenge to a drink-driving charge, taken on the basis that some road traffic legislation was not available in Irish.

In an email to transport on February 6th, in preparation for the case, an official from the CSSO requested translation of the SIs by February 23rd. A department official then wrote to Rannóg seeking the translations.

Query

A follow-up email from Rannóg, on February 19th, pointed out a discrepancy between the SI form and Section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, to which the SI referred; “eiseamal” was used on the form, while “samplá” was in the Act.

“If we use the term ‘samplá’ there will be a clear discrepancy between the two versions of the SI, which may have legal consequences,” the author said. “If we use ‘eiseamal’ there will be a discrepancy between the SIs and the Act, which also may have legal consequences.”

A second email from Rannóg was sent on February 20th which said: “Our motivation in drawing your attention to the discrepancy was to give the department an opportunity to make the best decision in terms of mitigating potential legal ramifications.”

‘Appropriate term’

Based on best practice, Rannóg felt there was no option but to use the term “samplá”, which was a long-standing precedent in all road traffic legislation, the author said.

In response, the department asked Rannóg to “hold off on issuing the official translation” until legal advice was obtained. This advice was withheld from the FOI release.

But a document from the Department of Justice, sent to transport in March, was provided. It outlined the history of the word “specimen” in legislation. Its author noted there was nothing to prevent a minister arranging a translation of an SI by a person “other than” Rannóg.

A final email, contained in the documents provided under FOI, was dated May 29th, sent by the Department of Transport to the Department of Justice. It said Rannóg had supplied the translations and “refused to issue a translation with the word eiseamal”.

“The version of the SI issued by the department to the CSSO is therefore not the same as the translation issued to us by Rannóg and if the SI were to be published, the version on Cahill’s [electronic Statutory Instruments System] would have to be amended … ” the author said.

“As discussed, we will not publish the SI for the moment, given the department was only asked for a translation.”

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