The Official Languages Act of 2003 is one of the few pieces of legislation in Irish law that guarantees the (deliberately limited) rights of Irish-speaking citizens when dealing with the government of Ireland. It ensures that a minimum standard of Irish language and bilingual services are provided by most (though not all) public bodies. In fact, as we have seen, the emphasis is on the “minimum” and report after report has shown that the majority of government departments ignore or otherwise circumvent the regulations laid out under the act. Technically this is illegal. In reality much of the political establishment in Ireland is willingly complicit in fostering this culture of institutional discrimination by the State towards its Irish-speaking population.
Back in 2012 I predicted that it was only a matter of time before the Fine Gael – Labour coalition government “gutted” the Official Languages Act of any meaning as part of their wider policy of targeting Hibernophone citizens and communities. The legislation is positively loathed by a number of anglophone Fine Gael and Labour TDanna, while many more are simply apathetic on the matter. So we now have the revelation of exactly that proposal in a government document leaked to the Irish Times newspaper:
“The Government is planning to row back on provisions in legislation guaranteeing Irish speakers equal access to State services, according to a document seen by The Irish Times.
A revised draft Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 includes the removal of a provision requiring the publication in each of the official languages of documents setting out public policy proposals.
Citing the cost associated with the translation of documents as the reason for the amendment, an accompanying note says the move “will address one of the main concerns that have arisen in regards to the implementation costs associated with the Act”.
The draft also includes a proposal to extend the term of language schemes from 3 years to 7 years. Language schemes are currently reviewed after three years and an accompanying explanatory note says the proposed measure will “considerably lessen the administrative burden in drafting, agreeing and confirming language schemes.”
Under another heading, titled Irish names and postal addresses, the draft provides for the use by persons of the Irish language or English language “version” of their names and addresses when communicating with public bodies.
However, an accompanying note says this provision has potential practical implications as IT and other business systems used in the public sector may require a “lead-in” time prior to implementation.
Other measures listed in the draft legislation include an amendment allowing the Minister for the Gaeltacht to withdraw a notice to a public body requiring it to prepare a language scheme as well as the formal adoption of the 2011 decision to merge the Irish language Commissioner’s office with the office of the Ombudsman as part of the public sector reform programme.
Fianna Fáil’s Éamon Ó Cuív said the draft was “frightening” and questioned the basis for most of the proposed amendments.
Singling out the amendment providing for the use of Irish and English versions of names and addresses, Mr Ó Cuív said:
“I have to say that I always believed that no-one had the right to translate my name. I always thought that your name belonged to you yourself and that there was no right (for instance) to translate a Russian name into English.”
Conradh na Gaeilge president Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill said the draft bill heads “completely disregard the needs of the Gaeltacht and Irish-speaking community.”
Mr Ó Cearbhaill said the proposed amendments include “nothing but cutbacks and a reneging on promises of increased provision of public services in Irish.”
And just in case anyone has failed to get the message that there exists in Ireland a two-tiered system of citizenship, English-speakers and Irish-speakers, more news from the dark and murky world of “Irish” government, again via the Irish Times:
“It will take 100 years for 1 per cent of the public service to be able to provide services in Irish at the current rate of implementation of the Government’s Irish language strategy, it has been claimed.
Sinn Féin’s Gaeltacht Affairs spokesman Peadar Tóibín said that based on 300 public sector workers currently attending Irish language classes it would be a century before just 1 per cent of the public service had sufficient fluency in Irish to provide service in the language to the public.”
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