An Coimisinéir Teanga (The Language Commissioner)

Ireland’s English State

The nation-state of Oirland, sure an' begorrah, 'tis the Queen's Ainglish that we spake!

The nation-state of Oirland, sure an’ begorrah, ’tis the Queen’s Ainglish that we spake!

Another year, another name-and-shame report from Ireland’s Language Commissioner, the independent ombudsman tasked with overseeing the implementation of the country’s Official Languages Act of 2003. This legislation guarantees limited rights for Irish-speaking citizens alongside their English-speaking peers (emphasis on the “limited”). However since its inception the profound levels of institutionalised discrimination in Ireland’s Anglophone public services has ensured that the act is more often breached than implemented, with hundreds of complaints being lodged every year against the Irish state by its own citizens (that’s several thousand over the last decade). Unsurprisingly 2013 has turned out to be another poor period for pluralism in Ireland. While 24% of complaints came from within the Gaeltachtaí or recognised Irish-speaking communities overall some 76% of complaints were made outside of those regions. Dublin had the greatest percentage of recorded issues (38%), which at least indicates that Ireland’s indigenous language has become a national one once again.

Reading the report in detail the extraordinary lengths various government bodies go to in order to deny Irish-speakers equality of service with English-speakers is nothing short of astonishing (and remember the use of the Irish language is deliberately restricted under the legislation through the use of so-called “schemes” and “exclusions”). Civil servants up and down the country will engage in hundreds of hours of work, and at considerable public expense, defending decisions and policies that are blatantly discriminatory in form and function. What’s more they will often do so with the backing of locally elected representatives. We are left with a culture of law-breaking by the very people tasked with upholding the law because they disagree with it. And what happens when officials are found guilty of failing their legal duties under the regulations. Why, they simply remove the offending regulations of course. What else? Is it any wonder that Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the previous Language Commissioner, resigned in despair when faced with these Kafkaesque-levels of bureaucratic chauvinism? One stand-out controversy features a decision by the Department of Education to try and impose an English-speaking teacher with no native fluency in Irish on an Irish-speaking community to teach, through Irish, Irish-speaking schoolchildren. To call it an extraordinary decision is to be generous. A more honest appraisal would be that sections of the Irish government clearly regard Irish-speakers as lesser citizens simply because of the language they speak. Lesser citizens deserving of lesser treatment. And that includes their children.

I strongly recommend that you read the report for yourself. It is certainly an eye-opening insight into the culture of linguistic apartheid that continues to pervade the apparatus of the modern “Irish” state.

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Saving The Language Commissioner

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

Sábháil Ár dTeanga

It’s been a hard struggle, and a long one, but the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government has finally succumbed to public pressure and agreed to retain the independent office of the Language Commissioner, the state official who oversees the implementation of the Official Languages Act. In Ireland the default language of government is English meaning that Irish-speaking citizens are placed at a disadvantage when using their native language while dealing with public officials or state documentation (ironically Irish is in fact Ireland’s “national” and “first official language” while English is merely recognised as “a second official language”. However governments of all hues gloss over this constitutional inconvenience, as do the police and the courts). The 2003 legislation was passed to ensure that limited equality was provided to Irish-speakers with their English-speaking peers after fears were expressed that the constitutional primacy of the Irish language could force the courts to judge in favour of a genuine system of bilingual governance and services. However the Anglophone culture of Ireland’s civil service and its general antipathy to Irish has meant that the regulations are barely adhered to which is why the investigatory role of the Language Commissioner was so important. Inevitably this earned the office the enmity of both public and political officials and resulted in the plans by the Fine Gael and Labour parties to effectively emasculate the office. So a retreat in the face of protests on the streets and elsewhere is welcome. However here’s the catch. There is every indication that the retention of the Language Commissioner is something of a smokescreen to hide the ongoing dismantling of the 2003 Act to render it even weaker and more ineffective than is already the case. In other words Ireland may have a Language Commissioner but there will be little to nothing for him to be commissioner of! From the Irish Times:

“Two major Irish-language groups, Gael Linn and Conradh na Gaeilge, have today welcomed the Government’s decision not to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman. Chief Executive of Gael Linn, Mr Antoine Ó Coileáin, said that it was the right decision but he was still concerned that “the proposal to dovetail the publication of the annual report and accounts of An Coimisnéir Teanga seems to be designed to limit his access to the Houses of the Oireachtas with the attendant opportunity to highlight his work”.

He said that the Government’s Heads of Bill for a revised Official Languages’ Act, also published today, gave “an opportunity to learn from the first 10 years of the Act and to plan for the needs of a bilingual society. The office of An Coimisnéir Teanga must then be resourced appropriately to do its work”.

He had doubts over the proposed new “language schemes”, that is, agreed plans by which departments and organisations provide services through Irish for the public…”

This is just one victory in one battle of a war that has yet to be won.

An Invisible People With Invisible Rights

An Ghaeilge! Irish rights are civil rights!

An Ghaeilge! Irish rights are civil rights!

An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner is a legal officer of the Irish state who’s role under the Official Languages Act of 2003 is to ensure the equal provision of public services to the nation’s Irish-speaking and English-speaking communities. This is in line with the constitutional imperative placed upon the Irish government to protect the civil rights of those citizens who speak the state’s sole national and first official language, which is Irish. A few days ago the person fulfilling that role, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, resigned from his office after nearly a decade of combating a culture of Anglophone discrimination inside the state towards its Hibernophone citizens. In a speech to an Oireachtas committee he expressed his frustration and concerns about the antipathy and hostility to Irish-speaking communities evident throughout government and the intentional starving of those communities of government resources.

Given the flurry of media publicity around the resignation one might reasonably suppose that most Anglophone journalists and opinion writers would be well informed on the matter. However it seems that being informed is one thing, disseminating Hibernophobic propaganda is another. Ian O’Doherty in his regular column for the Irish Independent newspaper takes this to a whole new level:

“…the head of Teanga, one of the main Irish language groups in the country, has resigned in a huff because there aren’t enough civil servants who can speak Irish.

Now, I know that Seán Ó Cuirreáin, as the acting head of a body devoted to the Irish language has every right to be peeved about the lack of a working knowledge of Irish, but that’s not the point.

The point is that, presumably, the only way for his concerns to be allayed would have been for the Government to pour more money down the endless toilet of the Irish language and send more civil servants off on a language training course.

I very much doubt anybody, apart from the few cantankerous souls who stubbornly insist on costing the State money by demanding special accommodations for the language, really cares one way or the other if someone in Spiddal has to use their English name. I don’t mean to sound uncaring or inconsiderate here but . . . no, wait, I do.

…TG4 is by far and away the most inventive and innovative broadcaster on this island.

But I still don’t think it’s the Government’s job to fund it, or any other as Gaeilge boondoggle, for that matter.”

The fact that O’Doherty has little to no understanding of the situation, that he thinks a legally-appointed official of the state is the head of a lobby group called Teanga, say’s it all. Taken with his evident wish to see Irish-speaking citizens of Ireland being discriminated against by their own government while grudgingly admitting that the Irish language public service broadcaster TG4 is superior to all the other (English language) TV stations on this island nation and it is evident that it is bigotry and not reason that drives his views. However there is some succour from the wretched bile of the Anglophone supremacists as displayed in today’s unexpected editorial from the Irish Times:

“It speaks volumes about the Government’s apparent lack of interest in its own policies towards the Irish language that the State’s first ever Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, has chosen to resign his post early rather than carry on watching while the Government continues to shirk its obligations towards Irish speakers.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin has been measured and constructive in his duties as Language Commissioner and his concerns for the language are well-merited. His blunt assessment is that the Government’s lack of action in providing services in Irish for the Gaeltacht and adequate capacity in public administration may be seen as “a fudge, a farce or a falsehood”.

It is widely accepted, by both Gaeltacht communities and academics, that the language is in dire straits in its traditional strongholds. It will not survive unless people are given adequate reason and encouragement to speak it. Yet it seems that the Government expects the people of the Gaeltacht to save the language simply because they have just about managed to do so until now.

The truth is that the people of the Gaeltacht cannot keep Irish alive simply by dint of being native speakers. They need and are entitled to services in their own language from their own State. Mr Ó Cuirreáin has rightly noted they have been obliged to use English in their dealings with State agencies and that this should not be allowed to continue. That it has gone on for so long is not only an affront to the people of the Gaeltacht but a damning indictment of so many governments over so many decades.

That there are people in Ireland who wish to speak Irish, both in the Gaeltacht and in urban areas, is not in doubt. That they have rights in this regard too is not in doubt, particularly since the enactment of the Official Languages Act in 2003.

That it takes the resignation of the Language Commissioner to remind the Government about those wishes and rights is simply shameful.”

Ireland’s Apartheid Republic

A Message To The Second-Class Irish

In response to yesterday’s surprise resignation by the Language Rights Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin, an act of protest against the culture of Anglophone discrimination towards Hibernophones that pervades the Irish state and government, this comment left on the website of the Irish Independent newspaper sums up the reaction of many English-speakers in Ireland.

The message is clear: true equality, true parity of esteem for this nation’s Irish-speaking citizens and communities will not be given – it must be taken.

Arrested For Speaking Irish – Welcome To Anglo-Ireland!

An Ghaeilge

An Ghaeilge!

Seán Ó Cuirreáin, an Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner, released his Annual Report for 2012 at an event in Galway yesterday and it has proven to be yet another dreadful year for the advancement of civil rights for Irish-speaking citizens in Ireland (you can read last year’s 2011 Report here). 2012 saw the highest number of complaints yet, 756 in total, the vast majority relating to practices or services provided by state bodies which discriminate against Irish speakers.

Among the more notable incidents was the arrest by an Garda Síochána in Dublin of a young man who replied in Irish to questions put to him in English by the Gardaí. Though completely innocent of any crime, and later released without charge, he was taken in handcuffs to a Garda station and held in custody until an Irish-speaking Garda could be found to interview him. Again, as the Language Commissioner makes clear, this man, a citizen of Ireland, was completely innocent of any offence and was detained in custody because he chose to speak in Irish when questioned; as is his legal right under the Constitution of Ireland.

“Senior management at An Garda Síochána are organising an overhaul of procedures for dealing with the public through Irish following an investigation by An Coimisinéir Teanga into an incident in Dublin where a young man, who attempted to conduct his business through Irish when stopped by Gardaí in relation to a road traffic matter, found himself arrested and escorted in handcuffs to a Garda station where he was detained until a Garda was found who could deal with him through Irish.

An Coimisinéir Teanga found that An Garda Síochána had failed in this instance to comply with a statutory commitment which recognises the right of the public to conduct business with the force in either official language, Irish or English.

An Coimisinéir Teanga noted a Garda attitude in his investigation, notwithstanding the constitutional status of Irish, that Irish speakers should be dealt with as if they were speakers of a foreign language. The discourse during the investigation placed “using Irish” and “dealing with foreign nationals” in the same space, he said. The person detained in the case was not involved in an accident nor were there any allegations made concerning speeding or driving under the influence of alcohol.”

Not so much Ireland 2012 as Ireland 1912. Among the main abuses noted in the report for last year are:

“…756 cases of difficulties or problems accessing state services through Irish – the largest number of complaints from the public to the Office since its establishment.

A total of 13 formal investigations were commenced during 2012. Findings of breaches of individual elements of language legislation were made against An Garda Síochána; the Department of Justice and Equality; the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; the Department of the Environment, Community and Local Government; Ordnance Survey Ireland; the Health Service Executive; the Central Bank of Ireland; the National Transport Authority; the University of Limerick; Ennis Town Council; Donegal County Council; and Kildare County Council.

“2012 was not a vintage year for the promotion of the Irish language in the public sector, and for every one step forward there appeared to have been two steps backwards,” according to An Coimisinéir Teanga.

While statistics from the most recent Census showed a positive trend from the previous one, with a 7% increase in the number of people who have Irish and those who use it daily, there was considerable concern among Irish speakers about the future of the Irish language and serious apprehension about the State’s efforts in its protection and promotion.

Three quarters of language schemes (statutory language plans) agreed for state bodies under the Official Languages Act had expired without renewal by the end of 2012 with a quarter of them out of date for three years or more.

“Only 9 language schemes were agreed or renewed during 2012, and at that annual rate of renewal the current schemes might not be fully replaced for twelve years,” said An Coimisinéir Teanga.

In 10 other cases, more than 6 years have elapsed since the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht requested state bodies to prepare draft language schemes but they remain to be agreed.

A further significant step was taken during 2012 that could prove a dangerous precedent with regard to the language scheme system: for the first time ever, a scheme was amended to cancel an obligation that had previously been confirmed when a member of the public complained that the state body in question was not in compliance with this obligation.”

In other words the institutions of the Irish state are actively and knowingly breaking the law in regard to their legal obligations under the Official Language Act of 2003. Or where they cannot breach the law (with apparent impunity) they are twisting or amending the law to suit themselves.  But then the Irish state as a whole under the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government is in the process of systematically rolling back a decade’s worth of civil rights legislation for Irish-speaking citizens in Ireland while starving Irish-speaking communities across the country of resources and legal protection.

One wonders how far all this has to go before the institutional discrimination against Irish-speakers that permeates the anglophone culture of the Irish state is finally tackled head on? Or do the Irish-speaking citizens of this nation need their own Derry March of 1968 or their own Burntollet? Will it take a Gaeilgeoirí Battle of the Bogside before anyone will take notice?

But then some would love to see the Irish-speaking population beaten into the ground. Just look to the Comments section of the Irish Independent or the online Journal. So many anglophone voices filled with subliminal violence, hatred, discrimination and racism. As I said, beaten into the ground.

The 2012 Annual Report by An Coimisinéir Teanga can be read in full here (PDF). More analysis on the report and its conclusions by Eoin Ó Riain here.

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We Shall Overcome - Civil Rights In Ireland - The 1960s

We Shall Overcome – Civil Rights In Ireland – The 1960s

Update 23.10, 13/03/2013: Ever feel like you are under attack? Perhaps because you are.

Update 13.10, 14/03/2013: Okay. There has been a lot of hate-messages coming my direction in relation to this article. Some of it directly via email, Twitter or Facebook. Some of it in the Comments facility provided by the blog. I certainly seem to have annoyed a lot of anglophone people in Ireland by highlighting the erosion and abuse of civil rights for Irish-speaking citizens in this country. Who knew so many English-speaking Irish people identified with English colonial ancestors? Who knew that so many  English-speaking Irish people regarded the pre-English Irish-speaking population as “uncivilized”, “barbarians”, “savages” and “animals”? What does that say about their ancestry?

There have been several threatening messages or Comments. Rather silly ones to be honest, not to be taken seriously. And a lot of stuff about Jews and Native Americans that would put the KKK to shame. I’ve passed the less extreme Comments. The full-on Neo-Unionist and Neo-Nazi ones are in the moderation queue.

Thanks to the many, many people on Twitter and Facebook who sent private messages of support and I understand why you didn’t feel free to make them public (for obvious reasons). Thanks also to the emailers and the regular WordPress posse.

Shining A Light On Institutional Discrimination?

Following on from the revelations of serious breaches by a significant number of public bodies in relation to their legal obligations under the Official Languages Act of 2003 (contained in the 2011 Report by An Coimisinéir Teanga), an Oireachtas committee is to bring a number of civil servants before it for questioning. While the deliberate obstruction of the state’s official policy of bilingualism (dating from 2006) by a large group of state employees came as no surprise the levels of illegality shocked many observers. Now the Oireachtas has finally been forced into action after a prolonged period of inactivity and indifference.

RTÉ reports that the committee has stated that:

“Representatives from An Garda Síochána, The HSE, the Depart of Social Protection and National Museum of Ireland will all be asked to appear.

They are also seeking to ask Minister for the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan to discuss with them the failure of his department to oversee the implementation of language schemes in Public bodies.

105 such schemes have been implemented by the Minister since the Language Act was enacted but 72 of these have since lapsed.

Only one new language scheme was confirmed by the Department of the Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in 2011.

The Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin told the joint committee today that he believes a recruitment policy which would discriminate positively with regard to Irish language speakers for a certain period would be a way of overcoming the difficulty the state system has in providing Irish language services and would also save money.

The Language Commissioner also told the Oireachtas committee that he had not been consulted beforehand or since the announcement was made that his office is to be merged with the Ombudsman’s office.”

In the interests of equality between Ireland’s Irish and English speaking citizens and communities let us hope that this is more than mere window-dressing. But I wouldn’t hold my breath if you’re waiting to see real and concrete action being taken against the culture of anglophone supremacism that permeates Ireland’s civil service.

Institutional Discrimination In The Irish State – The Culture Of An “Anglophone Stormont”

Céatadán na ngearán de réir cineáil (Percentage of complaints by type)

If you’ve been wondering just exactly why the Fine Gael – Labour coalition government seems so utterly determined to scrap the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner, despite a torrent of criticism and opposition both at home and abroad, read on. Seán Ó Cuirreáin has released his 2011 Annual Report on the adherence to the regulations governing the Official Languages Act of 2003 by public and state-funded bodies throughout Ireland, and it has proved yet again to be an absolute indictment of continued institutional discrimination within the Irish state towards the nation’s Irish-speaking citizens and communities.

“The year 2011 was a busy and eventful one for the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga.

At the same time, my Office laid two special reports before the Houses of the Oireachtas with regard to cases where public bodies had breached their statutory language obligations but then failed to implement the commendations made to ensure compliance. The organizations involved – the Health Service Executive and the National Museum of Ireland – did not appeal to the High Court against the decisions reached in the relevant investigations, but they did not implement the recommendations made by the investigations. This was the first time since its establishment that my Office had to take such action.”

This relates to serious breaches of the Official Languages Act by two branches of the civil service, both of which astonishingly continue to flaunt the law despite being publicly named and shamed before Oireachtas Éireann. The absolute arrogance of elements of the Irish civil service in relation to their legal obligations when it comes to Irish is breathtaking.

Céatadán na ngearán de réir cineáil (Percentage of complaints by type)

“During the year, my Office dealt with 734 cases of difficulties or problems accessing state services through Irish – the largest number of complaints from the public to the Office since its establishment. This represented an increase of 5% on the number of cases in the previous year.

Particular significance attaches to an investigation which found that An Garda Síochána stationed a substantial number of members of the force, who did not speak Irish, in the heart of the Donegal Gaeltacht in breach of statutory obligations. Only one of the nine Gardaí stationed in the parish of Gaoth Dobhair spoke Irish. This occurred at a stage when the status of Irish as a community language in the Gaeltacht is more vulnerable than at any time in the past. The State can hardly expect the Irish language to survive as the language of choice of Gaeltacht communities if it continues to require people in such areas to carry out their business with the State through English.”

If one had any queries on the status of the Irish language in modern Ireland it’s place is made quite clear by the fact that in 2011 An Garda Síochána, our national police service, continued to provide non-Irish speaking Gardaí or police officers to serve in Irish speaking communities. One is left wondering if anything has changed since the days of the Royal Irish Constabulary, the former British colonial police force in Ireland?

“As a result of two other investigations it was found that the Department of Social Protection failed to correctly award bonus marks for competence in Irish and English in internal promotion competitions. The system, which is in operation since 1975, was set up as a replacement for ‘compulsory’ Irish, and it was designed to ensure that Irish-speaking staff would be available at all grades in the Civil Service. The Department of Social Protection did not appeal the decision of the investigation to the High Court, but neither did it implement the recommendations. That in itself is a matter of concern but the situation is made worse by the knowledge that the practice of failing to award bonus marks correctly is common throughout the Civil Service.

If bonus marks are not awarded for proficiency in the two official languages in internal promotion competitions at a time when little recruitment is taking place in the Public Service and at a time when the work of Gaeleagras, the Irish language training body for the Public Service has been all but terminated, it is very difficult to see how the quantity and quality of state services through Irish could be improved.”

Scéimeanna imithe in éag (Schemes expired)

Again, what is this but institutionalised discrimination and the determination of anglophone supremacists within our state services to remove Irish as a language of government?

“In 2011, my Office continued a programme of detailed audits of public bodies in order to monitor compliance with the provisions of the Official Languages Act. The monitoring capacity of the Office was mainly focused on the implementation of language schemes. It is clear from the completed audits that the majority of public bodies do not succeed in fully implementing all commitments given in their language schemes within the lifetime of the schemes. Often, the commitments that are not implemented are the very ones most likely to be of benefit, such as the availability of Irish language versions of websites and online services and interpersonal services in Irish.”

Do people understand what is happening here? This is deliberate and wilful criminality by sections of the civil service. These are public officials who have abrogated to themselves the right to ignore the law. Indeed to act outside it.

There then follows one of the most condemnatory parts of the entire report:

“The system of language schemes is at the very heart of the legislation and we rely on the language scheme system to improve the quantity and quality of much of the services provided in Irish by public bodies.

During 2011, the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht confirmed only one new language scheme.

In total, 105 language schemes have been confirmed by the Minister to date, but by the end of 2011, 66 of these had expired. This means that no second scheme has been confirmed for two thirds of public bodies, a development that would have increased the supply of services through Irish that could be expected from those public bodies.

At least 20% of the language schemes had expired for more than three years and a further 20% for more than two years.

The following were among the public bodies whose language schemes had expired for long periods at the end of 2011: the Office of the President (three years and eight months), the Arts Council (three years and six months), Office of the Ombudsman (three years and six months), the Courts Service (three years and five months), Galway County Council (three years and four months), the Revenue Commissioners (three years and three months), and the Department for Education and Skills (three years and one month).

In addition to the above, 28 other public bodies had been asked to prepare a first draft scheme but by the end of 2011 these schemes were still not confirmed by the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. In the case of ten of those, more than five years had elapsed since they were initially asked to prepare a draft scheme, in two other cases four and a half years had elapsed. It is of particular significance that four years and seven months had elapsed since the HSE was requested to prepare a draft language scheme; this is an organisation with very close ties to the community and where almost a third of public sector employees work. It is almost three years since An Post was asked to prepare a draft language scheme and more than two years since the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, RTÉ and the National Roads Authority were asked to prepare schemes.

By year end, no language scheme had been confirmed for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, which was formally established on June 1st 2011.

Last year’s statistics show that matters have undoubtedly been allowed to slide out of control and that the system for the confirmation of language schemes appears now to have failed completely. I regret to say that I am of the opinion that it will prove next to impossible to re-establish confidence in that system.”

Considering that the language schemes were regarded as the minimal method for implementing some form of limited equality between the nation’s Irish and English speaking citizens in the eyes of the state, the decision by large sections of the state to conspire to deny those rights by simply refusing to implement full or adequate language schemes is a scandal. Furthermore the hundreds of complaints by Irish citizens in relation to discrimination at the hands of public servants or other breaches of the law by public bodies come from right across the country, 79% from outside the Gaeltachtaí or Irish-speaking regions, with 50% in Dublin alone (an increase of 9% from 2010).

Gearáin – An Ghaeltacht agus lasmuigh den Ghaeltacht (Complaints – Gaeltacht and non-Gaeltacht)

What is required by the Irish state, and the civil service that comprises so much of it, before it will recognise and accept the right of Irish-speaking citizens, Irish men, women and children to full equality under the law with their English-speaking peers? When will the culture of an “Anglophone Stormont” in our public institutions be faced head on?

Gearáin de réir contae (Complaints by county) – Gearáin de réir cineál comhlachta phoiblí (Complaints by type of public body)

After 90 years of waiting, and some might say centuries of waiting, what will it take for equality between Irish Ireland and English Ireland to be reached in our lifetimes?

Or do the Irish-speaking citizens of this nation need their own Derry March of 1968 or their own Burntollet? Will it take a Gaeilgeoirí Battle of the Bogside before anyone will take notice?

We Shall Overcome – Civil Rights In Ireland – The 1960s

There is more information on this at Galltacht – The Hidden Ireland.

Speak English! Or Else…

On Tuesday I discussed the slow but steady linguistic change currently taking place in Wales, with increasing numbers of Welsh people returning to their native language, largely due to a positive political environment in which equality legislation and clearly defined language policies have shaped the cultural landscape of the nation. Over the last two decades virtually all the political parties in Wales have embraced the concept of bilingualism and it has transformed the country. The days of politicians paying lip service to the Welsh language, or being actively hostile and discriminatory to Welsh speakers, have slowly faded away.

The institutional bigotry of English-speaking Wales has been broken, if not entirely erased. It can still kick back, as is evident from this report on the bizarre claims by businessmen in the Welsh-speaking region of Ceredigion that the transformation of the last bilingual English-and-Welsh speaking school in the area into a monolingual Welsh-speaking school (to meet the needs of local parents and children) will threaten jobs and the economy. Apparently speaking a language other than English means you will be punished by being made unemployed. I wonder has anyone told that to the Germans? Or the Japanese? Not to mention the Chinese.

From Wales Online:

“A row has erupted over plans to phase out teaching pupils in English at a primary school in a Welsh language stronghold.

Business leaders say the move could hinder the economy.

Ysgol Gynradd Aberteifi is the last remaining dual language primary school in the Cardigan area, with the nearest school teaching in English more than 20 miles away in New Quay.

All other eight schools within an eight-mile radius offer education through the medium of Welsh. The decision has ignited a row with business leaders who say the move could deter potential businesses and workforces from moving to the area.

Cardigan and District Chamber of Commerce said changing the status of the school will also have a “negative effect” on the expansion of existing businesses.

More than 1,000 people signed a petition against the change last year but the authority’s education cabinet gave the go ahead for the scheme last month.

Supporters say only a small number of pupils are currently taught in English and education director Eifion Evans said the change would be introduced gradually over a period of time, starting from September 2013.

Pupils already at the school will continue to be educated in Welsh and English during their time in the school. The school would become a full Welsh medium school in September 2019.

The Chamber has called for a delay on the move until a full consultation is carried out with firms in the area.

“We are objecting on the grounds that there has been inadequate consultation in relation to the effect such a change will have on the ability of local businesses to expand, and on the ability to attract new businesses,” said chairman Paul Oakley.

In a letter to the education authority, he said Ceredigion has the lowest earnings in Wales with a large community that desperately needs better paid jobs.

Welsh Government figures show the average weekly earnings in Ceredigion are the lowest in the country but house prices are disproportionately high.

Ceredigion remains one of the strongholds of the Welsh language, with 61% of those in the economically active age group speaking it.

Mr Oakley said the authority has said it has no evidence that the medium of education is an issue for prospective businesses.

“Quite who the education authority has consulted on these assertions is not clear but the obvious contact – the Chamber of Commerce, which represents more than 50 local businesses – has not been consulted, and would not agree with that,” he said.

“Key skills required by companies to move into new areas will be more difficult to recruit if there is no English stream in the local school.”

Councillor Ian ap Dewi, chairman of the council’s education scrutiny committee, said the decision was a very positive development for Cardigan and for the county.

“This is a big step and I congratulate the school for taking it. Welsh medium education is completely natural and normal.”

He added that late-comers to the Welsh language who move in from non-Welsh speaking areas will be able to attend to county’s language centre to prepare them for Welsh medium education.

Meinir Jones, spokeswoman for the Welsh Language Board, said: “Parents will still be able to help their child by reading bilingual books with them, by using audio books, and by taking an interest in school life and offer practical help if needed.

“In many parts of Wales the vast majority of children in Welsh-medium schools come from non-Welsh-speaking homes, so the schools are experienced in dealing with such situations.”

Reading the report one is left wondering if this is a case of Anglophone businessmen in Ceredigion issuing “warnings”: or issuing threats. Take away our English language and we will take away your jobs? Less a case of expressing the virtues of English and instead a simple case of expressing the inherent supremacism of some English-speakers.

What next? The “Blue Book” and the “Welsh Not” sign for children’s necks?

If It’s Good Enough For The Welsh, Why Is It Not Good Enough For The Irish?

In Ireland, after eight centuries of foreign colonial rule and despite nearly a century of independence, some of the population have been so thoroughly anglicised in their language, culture and thinking that an Anglophone minority continue to believe that it is their absolute right to hold undisputed sway over this country. This small but militant group within the broader English speaking community regard the resources of the Irish state as theirs and theirs alone. They look on those in Ireland who are outwardly indigenous in their language, culture and identity as little more than second-class citizens with second-class rights.

For this mongrelised oligarchy, our not-so-new Anglo-Irish elite, the Irish language is the English language; Irish culture is English culture. Anything that is “native” is rejected and reviled. If given their way the Irish language, and those who speak it, would be restricted to the “Reservations”. Forever.

How different things are amongst our Celtic neighbours in Wales. A country, ironically, that still lives in the shadow of the foreign state that we fought so long to escape; and which a minority of English-speaking Irish people are so eager to rush back to – in more ways than just language or culture. While the present Fine Gael – Labour coalition government, and a cabal of Anglophone supremacists who seem to have a grip of its policies in relation to the Irish language, works to undo the limited reforms that have been made to promote equality between the nation’s Irish and English speaking communities over the last decade, in Wales they are following a very different path. While the Fine Oibre autocracy is determined to abolish our Language Commissioner because he was simply too good at his job, too effective in wresting from the Irish state the rights of its Irish-speaking citizens so long denied, the Welsh are installing a language commissioner of their own. And based in part on our model.

From the Penny Post:

“Abi Pierce takes time out from her work at the Affordable Household Goods stall at Wrexham Butchers’ Market to wax lyrical about the Welsh language: “I see it as a wonderful gift, something to be cherished and developed.”

It’s not easy being a Welsh speaker, she admits. “I’m not always comfortable speaking it,” the 17-year-old says. “Some people take it as a bit of a joke, they think it’s a dying language and not worth saving.”

Which is why she is buoyed up by the bold attitude of the newly minted Welsh language commissioner, who is promising not only to act as an advocate for the tongue but to take action against those who do not give Welsh speakers such as Abi the freedom to express themselves.

In her first speech as commissioner, Meri Huws spoke of her vision of a Wales where speakers had the confidence to use the language and trust in the law to rectify any prejudice. Her initial focus will be to make sure that the Welsh government and public bodies fulfill their obligations to offer services both in English and Welsh.

Strikingly, Huws signalled she would step in if employees in small businesses were denied the freedom to speak Welsh at work. She gave the scenario of two hairdressers who were speaking Welsh together and a third insisting they speak English because he or she could not understand.

“In that situation the third colleague has interfered with the other two’s freedom to use the Welsh language,” said Huws. The Welsh speakers could complain to the commissioner and she could investigate.

Abi is impressed. “Anything that can be done to make Welsh speakers more comfortable and more confident has to be a good thing. Especially in a place like Wrexham, which is not a Welsh-speaking heartland, we do need someone that is going to help us fight for the language.”

The legislation that introduced the post of commissioner – and makes Welsh an official language – is the Welsh Language (Wales) 2011 Measure, the first piece of law relating to the language drafted and passed in Wales since the Act of Union in 1536.

The standards that organisations will have to meet will be shaped in the coming months during a period of public consultation. The commissioner will be able to fine bodies that do not comply with standards up to £5,000. Her powers relating to, for example, the hairdressers she mentioned are more limited though she could investigate complaints, write a report and release it to the media.

The tenor of the commissioner’s remarks is causing alarm bells to ring in business and industry.

The Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) in Wales believes that more language legislation could put more of a burden on its members.

Iestyn Davies, head of external affairs, said the FSB was “fully supportive” of Wales’s development as a bilingual country. “But I believe the best way to encourage the language is through voluntary codes. People should be encouraged to use Welsh because they want to, not because they are coerced.”

Over in the People’s Market (Wrexham has a rich variety of indoor markets) Nyeem Aslam is less diplomatic than the FSB. “I think this commissioner is talking nonsense. They always seem to be coming up with new rules to make it harder for businesses.” Aslam runs the Welsh Shop in the market, selling rugby shirts and T-shirts bearing patriotic slogans such as “Every morning I wake up, I thank the Lord I’m Welsh” but believes that in towns such as Wrexham, the Welsh language is irrelevant. “I don’t speak it and don’t do any business in Welsh.”

Huws’ role is not unique. Canada has language commissioners to protect its bilingualism and, as in Wales, immigration is seen as one of its major challenges.

Bethan Williams, chair of the pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg (Welsh Language Society), said legislation was necessary to make sure Welsh is a “central part of everyday life”.

She wants the commissioner to tackle big business, to force supermarkets to provide services in Welsh rather than just sticking up a few “tokenistic” signs in Welsh and to ensure banks offer online services in Welsh.

Williams said the new law was important for the language but also because it showed that Wales, which only gained primary law-making powers last year, could frame its own legislation.

“The new language measure was a test case of the ability of the national assembly to produce primary legislation. It was proof that legislation distinct for Wales could be fashioned in Wales and implemented by Welsh public servants. It is a symbolic sign.”

• Until the mid-1800s, more than 80% of people in Wales could speak Welsh.

• Factors such as the industrial revolution, which brought mass immigration, led to a steep decline in the number of Welsh speakers.

• According to the Welsh government, there are now 580,000 people in Wales who can speak the language – about 21% of the population.

• Language use surveys carried out between 2004 and 2006 suggested that 56% of all fluent Welsh speakers, in every age group, lived in four counties: Anglesey, Gwynedd, Ceredigion and Carmarthenshire.

• The 2001 census revealed that 40.8% of Welsh children aged between 5 and 15 could speak Welsh.

• A Federation of Small Businesses survey in 2009 found that 28% of those surveyed were able to deal with customers or each other in Welsh, and 12% were using bilingual signs or literature.”

Could you imagine the English-speaking political, business and media elite in Ireland tolerating true equality for the country’s Irish-speaking citizens along the lines spelled out in Wales? No? Well in truth, neither can I. At least, not this side of an Irish revolution.

The State Of Irish – In The Irish State

In today’s Irish Times (following on from yesterday’s bizarre anti-Irish rant by Ann Marie Hourihane) Finbar McDonnell examines the Fine Gael-Labour coalition government’s attitudes to it’s Irish speaking citizens in these economically straitened times:

“THE VIBRANT Seachtain na Gaeilge festival runs nationally until March 17th, with tomorrow a Lá Gaeilge in the Dáil. At the same time, Irish language groups are campaigning against the effects of funding cuts on the language. So what is the state of the language and how might the current recession affect it?

Since independence, all governments have supported the language and, 90 years on, the evidence suggests these policies have had mixed results.

The main policy focus (perhaps to an unbalanced extent) has been the education system. [ASF: or to put it more honestly, the effective ghettoization of the Irish language in our school system!] In many ways, achievements here are disappointing compared to inputs.

On the other hand, the work of the schools has led to the number of people who say they can speak Irish rising from 20 per cent of the population in the 1920s to more than 40 per cent today.

The 2006 census showed that 1.66 million people have an ability to speak Irish, with more than half a million people using Irish every day. This included more than 72,000 people who spoke Irish daily outside the education system.

As such, there has been some movement towards a bilingual society, although Ireland is clearly no Canada or Belgium.

Opinion polls consistently show that strong public support for Irish (despite a minority who don’t seem to “get” the language) and the vibrant Gaelscoil movement, as well as growth in the use of Irish in Northern Ireland, represent strong sources of optimism. (Research suggests one in four parents would send their child to a Gaelscoil if available.) While many languages around the world died in the 20th century, Irish is very much alive.”

There is more, including the worrying decline of Irish in the traditional Irish-speaking heartlands of the Gaeltacht, though with the proviso of the very public increase of Irish speakers in major urban areas like Dublin, Cork, Galway, Belfast and Derry. However it is the government’s record on the Irish language that receives the most attention, including its long-term commitment to agreed strategies to encourage growth in the number of fluent speakers across the country:

“On the positive side, the recent Gaeltacht Bill suggests commitment to the strategy. As well as focusing on the urgent challenges facing Gaeltacht areas in keeping the language alive, an innovative part of the Bill will allow any area where large numbers of Irish language speakers live or work to become a “Gaeltacht network” (groups in both Clondalkin and Co Clare are already looking at this). New “Gaeltacht” areas, with a range of outlets for people to use Irish, could generate local pride and create virtuous circles of language visibility and use.

On the other hand, the national austerity is having detrimental effects and particularly negative decisions include:

The proposal to merge the Office of the Irish Language Commissioner with the Office of the Ombudsman, which will lead to almost no savings, but may well affect the rights of Irish speakers;

The cutting of grants to trainee teachers to spend time in the Gaeltacht. This is particularly illogical as trainee teachers need more and not less time in the Gaeltacht;

Reduced funding for small Gaeltacht schools.

The risk is that spending cuts from different Government departments could, taken together, undermine the “horizontal” Government objective of supporting the language. There is an urgent need for the Cabinet committee on the Irish language to take a “joined-up” view to ensure the 20-year strategy is given high-level leadership and oversight.”

And is that likely to happen, given the government’s generally deplorable record on Irish and prevalent anti-Irish attitudes amongst many members in both parties?

Speaking In Two Tongues

Do you know that you live in an officially bilingual Ireland?

Believe it or not but the Government of Ireland committed itself to a policy of “official bilingualism” across the country way back in 2006. In a statement issued six years ago, and supported by all the major parties in Oireachtas Éireann, the government pledged itself to implement new legislation and a series of programs to create a genuinely bilingual nation. The aim was a society where full equal rights would exist between Irish and English speaking citizens and where bilingualism would become part of the weft and weave of the nation (instead of being ghettoised in the education system).

Gone was the commitment to a purely Irish speaking Ireland, rejected on the basis of the utility of the English language in the global free market (that worked out well, didn’t it?). Instead all the major Irish political parties dedicated themselves to the much less ambitious policy of a bilingual Ireland (and with n’ery a sign of shame or embarrassment for their utter failure to do any better over the previous eight decades).

So, not an Irish Ireland but an Irish and English Ireland.

And how’s that going?

Well, not terribly well to be honest. Why? Mainly because most of the parties who signed up to the 2006 policy statement on the Irish language didn’t mean a word of it. In fact the same old prejudices and indifference that made them ignore our native language in favour of the language of the invader (for so the English language is however much some would rather forget it) continued unabated. No matter that 50% of the original policy statement consisted of aspirational airy-fairy fluff that didn’t mean a damn thing. Even the half that remained was a wee bit more than the establishment politicos could stomach.

In 2010 (four years after the 2006 Statement of Policy on the Irish Language) we got the “20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030”. Unfortunately it’s taken until this year, 2012, for the Strategy to actually start being implemented. However, guess what? We are still very much in the mode of discussions about discussions.

In Ireland the wheels of government move slow. Not sure about the steady bit though.

In Canada, another “officially bilingual” nation, they do things differently. Their political classes actually seem to mean what they say – or sign up to do. From the National Post we have an article by Canada’s Language Commissioner. He does the same job our Language Commissioner here does. Y’know, ensuring equal rights among all citizens regardless of which of the two official languages they speak? That’s the same Commissioner our Fine Gael Labour coalition government is determined to get rid of.

How’s that official bilingualism thing going for you, then?

“For me, it is a question of identity … I am Canadian — I speak French.” These were the words of Savroop Kullar, a French immersion student at the University of Ottawa, addressing an international conference on post-secondary immersion on Friday.

I thought of this remark reading David Frum’s argument that Canada’s immigration policies will mean the gradual disappearance of the political influence of French-speaking Canada in general and Quebec in particular.

Frum mentions a hypothetical Québécois who meets a girl from a Chinese immigrant background. What he neglects to mention is the enthusiasm that the Chinese community has demonstrated for sending their children to French immersion schools, perhaps inspired by former governor-general Adrienne Clarkson’s eloquence in both official languages. Many immigrants, like Savroop Kullar, see bilingualism as an aspirational goal linked to Canada’s identity.

(This is not unique to Canada; Irish language classes in Dublin are filled with immigrants from Eastern Europe who see learning Irish as a way of affirming their commitment to their new country.)

As Frum points out, Stephen Harper has won a majority government without strong representation in Quebec. But this has not stopped him from beginning every news conference in French, and speaking French at G-8 meetings in Washington and Beijing. This is partly his understanding of Canada’s identity, at home and abroad. But he also knows that, while 98% of Canadians speak English or French, there are 4 million French-speaking Canadians who speak no English. And he also knows that, in addition to the 75 seats in Quebec, there are 19 seats outside Quebec where French speakers represent at least 10% of the population — and he won 10 of them.

For the first time, six of Canada’s premiers are bilingual: A reflection of their interest in understanding national issues, but also the interest that premiers Charest, Ghiz, Alward, McGuinty, Selinger and Redford have shown in the minority language communities in their provinces. And those Canadians who want to understand the country as a whole — whether politicians, public servants, soldiers, academics, labour leaders, business people, judges or hockey coaches — have made a point of learning both official languages.”

If only the same could be said of dear old bilingual Ireland.

The Pettiness Of Casual Discrimination In Ireland

From the Irish Times, a story about a seemingly causal act of unthinking discrimination that actually reveals quiet a lot about the thinking of those who regulate and govern our lives:

“NEW INFORMATION signs provided to taxi drivers to display in their vehicles could be in breach of the Official Languages Act, Foras na Gaeilge has said.

The signs, posted to drivers this month by the National Transport Authority, are in English only and are replacing bilingual signs already on display in taxis.

Designed to be handled and read by passengers, they include information on fares, lost property and how to recognise a licensed driver.

The cards they replace had dense text in English on one side and in Irish on the reverse.

The Official Languages Act 2003 requires that public bodies produce signs and stationery in Irish as well as English. A breach of the Act can be investigated by An Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner).

Brendan MacCraith [or Breandán Mac Craith to his family and friends], spokesman for Foras na Gaeilge, the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language, said the authority could be in breach of the Official Languages Act by failing to provide the information in both languages.

“If the signs were previously bilingual and are now in English only, that is a retrograde step,” he said.

The point of the legislation was that people who wanted to use Irish would not have to request something special.

“The whole idea is to make the service more freely available and not an extra,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the authority said the new signs were in fact “information cards”.

The authority used the Irish language on its stationery and signs, in accordance with legislation, but the “information cards” were “neither stationery nor signs”.

She said they were “cards that drivers make available to their customers by putting them in the seat pockets in the back of the vehicle or anywhere else within easy reach of the customer”.

“They were not therefore produced in Irish,” she said.”

Well of course not.

Isn’t it amazing to see the Irish civil service following the exact letter of the law? Of course, they weren’t quite so discerning during the boom years of the Celtic Tiger, but hey, better late than never.

And what a wonderful interpretation of the law they make. Information cards are not stationery? And to take things further, information signs are not, in fact, signs? As my sister would say: ‘mazeballs!

Irish Rights Are Equals Rights – So Fight Back!

Tá An Réabhlóid Ag Teacht! The Revolution Is Coming!

Tá An Réabhlóid Ag Teacht! The Revolution Is Coming!

Over the last several months I have regularly highlighted the alarm felt by many in Ireland and beyond over the Fine Gael-Labour government’s attitudes to the Irish language and the Irish-speaking population of Ireland (and those who identify with both). It has become clear that the discriminatory policies adopted by Fine Gael in opposition have been carried over into government and with the connivance of the Labour Party the coalition is intent on rolling back a decade of civil rights legislation for the nation’s Irish speaking citizens. We have seen attacks on the Official Languages Act of 2003 and An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner, culminating in the move to abolish the latter office, thus removing any statutory force for Irish-speaking citizens to ensure their legal and constitutional rights in seeking equal services from state with their English-speaking peers.

So I’m highlighting again your chance to do something to protect language rights legislation in Ireland. The government has produced an online questionnaire for those supporting the Official Languages Act to voice their opinion, and though we may feel sceptical about their motives in doing so, it presents an opportunity for those who support Ireland’s indigenous language and culture to stand up and be counted.

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge has now produced a short video explaining what you need to do, so please watch it and then follow the links below to the survey itself, both in English and Irish. It should take no more than 10 minutes to complete the questionnaire and anyone who speaks or identifies with the native Irish language and a native Irish identity, regardless of your own daily spoken language or where you come from, should please take a few short moments to fill it out.

The survey in English is here.

The survey in Irish is here.

Please support civil rights in Ireland and share this post with as many of your friends and contacts as you can.

Cosain Do Chearta Teanga! Protect Your Language Rights!

Fighting For The Truth

There is a letter in The Irish Times from a host of Irish civil rights campaigners, journalists, businesspeople, academics and student leaders protesting the decision by the Irish government to abolish the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (the Language Commissioner) through the amalgamation of his agency with that of the Ombudsman. Ostensibly made to meet budgetary restrictions imposed by the EU-IMF, the Minster in charge of implementing the decision has recently admitted that it may in fact cost more money to remove the Office of the Language Commissioner than will be saved.

“A chara,

We, as members of the Irish language community both within and outside of the Gaeltacht, expect that the Government will change its decision to merge the functions of the Language Commissioner with the Ombudsman Office in 2012 and are calling on the Government to make that change now rather than dragging out the process and further damaging the effectiveness of the office.

The language commissioner has been widely recognised as a highly efficient and dynamic commissioner who has been praised not only for his work in defending citizens’ rights but also for being a proactive advocate of best language practice. A recent example of this would be the highly attractive module on general language rights that his office recently developed for use in transition year at second level.

We now know that the decision, as admitted by the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht in the Dáil on November 24th, could actually cost the state money. The decision also did not take in to account the fact that the current language commissioner has been reappointed until 2016 as an independent commissioner and therefore could open the State to the risk of legal action which could cost the State even more money. Indeed, An Bord Snip Nua when it looked at the office identified no efficiencies to be made and made no recommendation to alter the status of the office of the language commissioner as an independent office.

All political parties and the Irish language and Gaeltacht organisations have backed the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2012-2030. We acknowledge that funding will be a problem in the short term, but why undermine the strategy and the goodwill behind it with this decision that has been acknowledged as having no savings to make to the exchequer?

We believe that the Government should look at the economic arguments coupled with the wishes and the belief of the Irish language community both within and outside of the Gaeltacht that the office of the language commissioner should be supported, that it has our trust and that it has been a very effective service since been set up in 2004. Reversing their decision is therefore the logical and correct thing to do and should be done without delay.

Is muidne,

AODÁN Mac AN MHÍLIDH, Gaeilge Átha Luain; AOILEANN Nic DHONNACHA; BLÁTHNAID Ní GHRÉACHÁIN, Gaelscoileanna Teo; BREANDÁN Mac GEARAILT, Ball d’Údarás na Gaeltachta; CABRÍNÍ de BARRA, Comhlucht Forbartha na nDéise CAITLÍN NEACHTAIN, Bainisteoir, Comharchumann Dhúiche Sheoigheach; CAOIMHÍN Ó HEAGHRA, An Foras Pátrúnachta; CARMEL Nic EOCHAIDH, Spleodar; COLM Mac SÉALAIGH; CONCHUBHAIR Mac LOCHLAINN, Seachtain na Gaeilge; SEOSAIMH Ó CONCHUIR, Cumann Cearta Sibhialta Ghaeltacht Chorca Dhuibhne; ROIBEARD Ó HEARTÁIN PÁID Ó NEACHTAIN, Cumann na nOifigeach Forbartha Gaeilge (Earnáil Phoiblí); DONNCHA Ó hÉALLAITHE; DONNCHADH Ó hAODHA, Uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge; ÉAMONN Mac NIALLAIS, Guth na Gaeltachta; EITHNE O’DOHERTY, Craobh na gCeithre Chúirteanna; EOIN Ó RIAIN; FEARGAL Ó CUILINN, Comhluadar; GARY REDMOND, Uachtarán Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn; GEARÓID Ó MURCHÚ, An Spailpín Fánach; JULIAN de SPÁINN, Aontas Phobal na Gaeilge; LIAM Ó MAOLAODHA, Oireachtas na Gaeilge; LORCÁN Mac GABHANN, Glór na nGael;MAEDHBH Ní DHÓNAILL, Ógras; MÁIRTÍN Ó MAOLMHUAIDH, Gaelphobal Cheantar an tSratha Báin; MÍCHEÁL de MÓRDHA, Uachtarán an Oireachtais 2010; NIALL COMER, Uachtarán, Comhaltas Uladh; PÁDRAIG Mac FHEARGHUSA, Fóram Gaeilge Chiarraí; PEADAR de BLÚIT, Aontas na Mac Léinn in Éirinn; ROBBIE CRONIN, an chéad ionadaí don Ghaeilge thar cheann an ASTI; RUTH Ní SHIADHAIL, Gaeilge Locha Riach SEÁN Ó MURCHADHA, Craobh Mhuineacháin Conradh na Gaeilge, c/o Sráid Fhearchair,

Baile Átha Cliath 2.”

Yet again, the recent revelations over the actual cost of the government decision to abolish the Language Commissioner’s office raise serious questions about what agenda is being pursued here. The actions and policies of the civil service establishment in Ireland have been the chief cause of complaints by Irish citizens seeking their constitutional and legal rights since the creation of An Coimisinéir Teanga. In the last two years his Office has seen a rapid rise in these complaints. Numerous government bodies have been reported for breaking their legal obligations to provide the same services to Irish speaking citizens as those automatically given to English speaking ones. The Commissioner himself has recorded the opposition he has faced from within the civil service, noting the deliberate attempts by some government departments to circumvent the equality legislation inherent in the Official Languages Act of 2003.

As I have argued before, the real reason for the criticism of the Language Commissioner, and the Official Languages Act itself, is nothing to do with financial considerations. Rather it is the success of both. This is not about “saving money”. It is about saving a hardcore, anglophone minority in the civil service, with fellow travellers in the political and media worlds, who reject the rights of Irish speaking citizens and who no longer wish to be held to account for their discriminatory attitudes and practices. It is institutionalised bigotry seeking to reassert itself within the heart of the Irish state.

And it must not be allowed to happen. Again.

An Anti-Irish Free State?

I’ve written several pieces here about the shock and dismay felt by many Irish-speaking citizens across Ireland at the decision by the current Fine Gael-Labour coalition government to abolish the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga or the Language Commissioner; a decision justified as a necessary requirement of the hack and burn austerity measures dictated by the IMF-ECB. However to most observers the move to do away with this independent public agency, which has fought to ensure the same access to state institutions for Irish-speaking citizens over the last 10 years that have been enjoyed by English-speaking citizens for the last 90 years, is driven more by the success of the office (and the legislation behind it) than any financial considerations.  Notable cases taken in recent years, based upon the exceptionally large number of complaints lodged with An Coimisinéir Teanga by Irish citizens who have found themselves discriminated against because they use the indigenous language of their own country, marked the Language Commissioner as an early target for the new wave of anti-Irish rhetoric emanating from a culturally Anglo-American, Anglophone political establishment.

Now support has come from a panel of Irish and international academics for those opposing the return to the institutionalised “racism” of previous decades, as reported in the Irish Times:

“FIVE INTERNATIONAL language experts have questioned the Government’s decision to merge the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner) with that of the Ombudsman.

The merger was announced last month as part of the Government’s public sector reform programme, and has already been criticised by Irish language bodies and by Fianna Fáil.

In a letter to Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht Jimmy Deenihan, five specialists in Ireland, Wales, Scotland and Canada question the justification for the decision.

NUI Galway lecturer Dr John Walsh, Prof Colin Williams of Cardiff University, Prof Linda Cardinal of the University of Ottawa, Dr Wilson McLeod of the University of Edinburgh and Prof Rob Dunbar of Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the University of the Highlands and Islands, say they believe there are “no obvious economic savings” as a result.

Staff in the language commissioner’s office in Spiddal, Co Galway, are already employed by the Department of the Gaeltacht, and share that department’s human resources and financial and services functions.

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.

“The great strength of the Irish system is the independence of the [Irish Language] Commissioner’s office to investigate complaints in strict accordance with its statutory obligations,” the five academics state.

“Without such an independent office and focus for investigation of complaints, we fear that the rights of Irish speakers will atrophy,” they say, calling on Mr Deenihan to reconsider the decision.”

It is of course the “great strength” of the Language Commissioner which is its undoing. For a zealous minority of the anglicised, English-speaking community in Ireland, with their pathological hatred of those who embrace a native Irish identity (or indeed a native and anglicised Irish identity), the success of An Coimisinéir Teanga was infuriating. For these “Neo-Colonials” the dismissal of indigenous Irish culture, in any and all forms, is the paramount “culture war”. One that has been fought here since the Middle Ages and the first British colonies. Any signs of “strength” by the “natives” is a sign of their “weakness”. No “parity of esteem” or “peaceful, communal coexistence” here. Annihilation, dressed up in the rhetoric of the free market or financial necessity or claims to faux modernism, is the intention. That is the true purpose behind the abolishing of the Office of the Language Commissioner.

A state which rejects the indigenous identity of its citizens is a state those citizens are in turn justified in rejecting.