Some 20 per cent of new recruits to the public service will have to be proficient in Irish by 2030 under changes to the Official Languages Bill announced by the Government on Thursday.
Minister of State for the Gaeltacht Jack Chambers has confirmed that 32 amendments, including Opposition amendments, have been accepted for the Bill, which imposes obligations on State bodies in relation to upholding the use and status of the Irish language.
Other key amendments include a new requirement that 20 per cent of all public advertising by public bodies be in Irish. A minimum of 5 per cent must appear in Irish-language media.
There will also be a new obligation that all IT systems and keyboards used by public officials in the State must have a facility to produce a “síneadh fada”.
The inability of some bodies to publish correspondence and communications with a “síneadh fada” has long been a cause of frustration to Irish-language campaigners.
The large number of amendments emerged from a marathon debate at Committee Stage of the Bill, where it was the subject of detailed scrutiny by the all-party committee on the Gaeltacht and Gaeilge.
The debate lasted 25 hours in total and extended over many weeks under the committee chaired by Aengus Ó Snodaigh. Opposition TDs argued that the language of the Bill, its deadlines and its targets needed to be strengthened and specified in order to ensure what was intended by the legislation was achieved.
Another body which will be given legal status is the Placenames Committee. It will replace the long-standing Placenames Commission (An Choimisiúin Logainmneacha) and give advice on the correct spelling and use of the many thousands of original Irish place names throughout the country.
There is also a new requirement for any company which supplies public services to make arrangements for the use of Irish to become an integral part of the service provided.
In a statement, Mr Chambers said the amendments would improve and strengthen the legislation.
He said when the Bill was originally published in 20i9 there were criticisms about the lack of deadlines or completion dates in the legislation. He said these amendments would address those weaknesses.
“Many of these amendments are based on specific questions that were raised by the opposition at Committee stage,” he said. Accepting these amendments indicates our willingness to listen to the concerns and issues of the Irish-speaking, and Gaeltacht, communities.
“Both [senior Minister] Catherine Martin and I strongly believe that these amendments will strengthen the status of Irish in the public sector and ensure that Irish-language services of a high standard are provided to the public.”
For her part, Ms Martin said the amendments had been borne out of a comprehensive consultation with all interested parties and after a debate that lasted 25 hours at Committee stage.