Garda apology to Oireachtas committee over language measure ‘omission’

Oireachtas committee questions officials over changes to Garda recruitment policies

A senior Garda officer has apologised after an Oireachtas committee was not informed of discussions surrounding the removal of an Irish language requirement for members seeking promotion within the force.

Deputy Commissioner Anne Marie McMahon appeared before the Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community on Wednesday to answer questions surrounding recent changes made to Garda recruitment and promotional policies.

Commissioner Drew Harris was questioned at a committee meeting last May over criticisms by an Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill about the service provided by An Garda Síochána to Irish speakers in Gaeltacht areas.

It subsequently emerged that gardaí seeking promotion to sergeant and inspector rank would no longer have to pass an oral Irish examination.


The deputy commissioner said: “I would say that it was an omission on our part that we didn’t address that, at that point in time.”

She said the focus of the discussion on that particular date “was around the Coimisinéir Teanga report and our progress, or lack thereof, in terms of how we were meeting those recommendations.

“It certainly wasn’t on the agenda and at that point in time I would say that most of us weren’t aware of or weren’t privy to the finer points surrounding the Irish language.”

“I would like to apologise for that and certainly, on reflection, it’s probably something that should have surfaced,” she added.

The deputy commissioner was joined at Wednesday's meeting by the chairman of the Policing Authority Bob Collins and the chief executive of the Public Appointments Service Shirley Comerford as well as Doncha O'Sullivan from the Department of Justice.

Following questioning by Kerry Sinn Féin TD Pa Daly over where the proposal to change the criteria originated, the committee was told by Mr O'Sullivan that the proposal to remove the language requirement "emerged from discussions the Department [of Justice] was having with the various parties".

‘Did not seem to fit’

He said the requirement “did not seem to fit” within a set of criteria used to identify how the best supervisors and managers in An Garda Síochána might be selected.

Ms McMahon said: “In the early stages of the deliberations I’m aware that the Garda Síochána did make a submission to retain the existing regulations as they were.

“However, over time and as the discussion evolved, the consensus was to change. That is my understanding of it having not been part of it.”

Responding to a query by Cork Fianna Fáil TD Aindrias Ó Muineacháin, Mr O’Sullivan said the new promotional criteria was built on an “objective basis” and on grounds “that are linked to the skills you need to be a good supervisor”.

He said he was “not aware” that anybody “particularly felt” that the Irish language requirement was acting as a barrier to people progressing.

Under the previous arrangement, gardaí seeking promotion to sergeant and inspector rank had to score 50 per cent or more in an oral Irish examination to progress.

“The reality is there would probably be very few people in that mix,” Mr O’Sullivan added.

“The point really is that in a contemporary promotion competition process you include the competencies you think are essential to general supervisory work, noting the point that there are some parts of the country where we will need special [Irish language] skills.”

The deputy commissioner outlined details of the force’s Irish language strategy and said the new language strategy would be published in March.

This would form the “cornerstone” of how the force achieves its statutory obligations, she said.

One of the key recommendations made by An Coimisinéir Teanga had already been implemented and gardaí stationed in Gaeltacht areas have been assessed according to the European Languages Framework as suggested by Mr Ó Domhnaill.

Another decision, announced by the Department of Justice in December, to scrap a requirement that candidates must have proficiency in two languages, one of which had to be English or Irish, was also discussed by the committee.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.