Enhanced EU status of Irish language ‘a significant achievement’, says Higgins

President says now is time for public to ‘throw off all the inhibitions’ surrounding language

President Michael D Higgins has described the newly enhanced status of the Irish language in the European Union as an "important recognition" of Ireland's linguistic identity.

Irish achieved full parity with the European Union’s 23 official languages from midnight, December 31st, 2021, following the end of a derogation that has been in place since 2007. From January 1st, 2022, all legislation enacted onwards will be translated into Irish.

“This full status is an important recognition at international level of our specific identity as a people with a distinctive language of our own that we use alongside all the other languages we use and respect,” President Higgins said in a statement.

“It places our language on an equal footing with those of the founding members of the Union, and those of the Member States who have joined over the years since.

Mr Higgins described the enhanced status as “a significant achievement” and said it would be gratifying for many to know that Irish will be in every day use in the European Union.

"While the language will now be in every day use in the EU, we must now seize the opportunity to also take responsibility for ensuring that it means something in our own lives. I gcroílár gnóthaí laethúla na hEorpa; i gcroílár an tsaoil sa Bhaile (at the heart of daily business in Europe; at the heart of life at home).

“Yes, we must learn the languages of our friends in Europe and use as much of their languages as we can, but there is immense significance to having our own language in use. We have made English our own, and we rightly take pride in our four Noble laureates in literature in that language, but now we have a further linguistic tool for our reflections and exchanges.

Citing the “varied experiences” which people may have had in the education system in the past, Mr Higgins said he does not take lightly the reasons why people do not always feel a strong connection to Irish.

Another chance

However, he suggested it was now time to to “throw off all the inhibitions” and to make a resolution to engage with the language.

“When Teilifís na Gaeilge was coming on the air, I said ‘give the Irish language another chance’. Now I say throw off all the inhibitions, the excuses, the laziness and as the language of our ancestors becomes at even level in daily usage in the European Union, let us go and make a resolution to give it a place in our daily lives at home – i lár an aonaigh, inár ngnáthcaint (at the centre of things, in our everyday speech),” he added.

“We have, in this coming year not only a responsibility, but a joyful opportunity to ensure that our native language is available and valued by our future generations. The Irish language is that of us.

“Let us take this opportunity to make it part of all of our lives. Our young people are showing how it carries no burden of any exclusion or dismissal of others. Every generation can be part of our shared Irish, European, global multiple identities.

“Let us all build on what we have and let January 1st, 2022, be the year of the iarracht mhór ar son na teanga agus a dtugtar an t-ómós is cóir do gach teanga ar an domhain.”

The enhanced status of Irish was initially sought by the Irish government in 2004 after a lengthy public campaign led by language rights group Stádas and cross-party support for the move. While full status was awarded in 2007, the government subsequently requested a derogation restricting the number of documents to be translated into Irish until a shortage of qualified translation staff and limited technological resources could be addressed.

According to 2021 figures, the EU translation service currently employs some 2,000 people, the majority of whom are translators. Some 2 million pages are translated each year at an overall cost to the EU budget of €349 million, which is the equivalent of 0.2 per cent of the EU’s overall budget.

The Irish language’s newly enhanced status is expected to result in new career opportunities for graduates interested in working with the language and the number of Irish language staff working in the European institutions will soon increase to around 200.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí is an Irish Times journalist and editor of the Irish Times Student Hub