Irish language bodies criticise merger


ACADEMICS, IRISH language organisations and former minister for the Gaeltacht Éamon Ó Cuív have criticised the decision to merge An Coimisinéir Teanga’s (the Irish Language Commissioner) office with that of the Ombudsman.

The merger, announced as part of the Government’s public sector reform programme, has been described by Mr Ó Cuív as “window-dressing” and a move that would cost more than it would save.

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge said it wanted an urgent meeting with Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan to discuss the implications of this decision, “as well as other decisions that will impact the promotion of the Irish language”.

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge is the central steering council for the Irish language community.

Staff in the language commissioner’s office in Spiddal, Co Galway, were already employed by the Department of the Gaeltacht, and therefore met the “shared services” model identified to save public funds, Mr Ó Cuív said.

The commissioner’s office also availed of the human resources and financial and services functions of the Gaeltacht department, he pointed out.

The language commissioner’s office costs about €600,000 annually and is charged with ensuring language rights are adhered to under the Official Languages Act.

Its annual report has been critical of a number of departments and public bodies for failing to meet these requirements.

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge expressed its “disappointment” with the Government’s decision.

NUI Galway Irish lecturer Dr John Walsh said that the move was “incomprehensible”. “It will not save any money, and contradicts other policies on the Irish language,” Dr Walsh said. “This is a severe blow to the promotion of Irish and undermines years of efforts to strengthen language rights.”

Former journalist Seán Ó Cuirreáin was appointed language commissioner in February 2004, under the Official Languages Act 2003. His term was renewed for six years in February 2010.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said he was “very proud” of what his office had achieved over the past 7½ years.

“While none of my 5½ staff will lose their jobs, it is most important that language rights should remain on the national agenda,” he said. He confirmed that he had not been consulted on the decision and was informed by telephone on Wednesday night.

In a related development, the national fish farmers’ representative body has expressed concern at any attempt to transfer the functions of Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM), the Irish sea fisheries development board, into the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food.

BIM is on a six-month stay of execution in the public sector reform review, but its role in developing and supporting the seafood industry has been praised by Irish Farmers Association aquaculture division chief executive Richie Flynn.