Signs in Irish. Totally confusing to me, but I...

Here comes trouble. Many months ago I predicted that Fine Gael in government, in line with its current anti-Irish stance, would do its best to gut the Official Languages Act of 2003. That’s pretty much the one piece of legislation in the whole of Irish state law that protects the rights of the nation’s Irish speaking citizens in relation to public services, and ensures that we have some semblance of a bilingual state (however pitifully). 

Now Dinny McGinley, FG’s Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, has announced a major review of the provisions of the 2003 Act. And we all know what that means. Strip out the politico-speak and the agenda is glaringly obvious. 

“Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley T.D., today (Thursday 11th November, 2011) announced that the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has commenced a review of the Official Languages Act 2003, in line with the commitment specified in the Programme for Government. The main objective of the Act is to ensure the enhanced provision of public services through Irish.” 

That may be the main objective of the Act but don’t expect it to be the main objective of the review. Will public services through Irish be enhanced? Read on. 

“The objectives of the review are to ensure that the Act is an effective mechanism that supports the development of the Irish language in an efficient and cost-effective manner and that the obligations arising from the Act are appropriate to ensure the satisfactory provision of services in Irish by public bodies, in line with public demand. Under the review’s terms of reference, a comprehensive review will be undertaken with regard to the application of the Act which will take into consideration suggested amendments in order to ensure that the public services to be provided through Irish are the services most in demand. Best practice relating to the provision of language services in other jurisdictions will also be examined. “ 

Take note of the phrase “efficient and cost-effective manner”. See where they’re going with this one? Don’t forget, “the obligations arising from the Act are appropriate to ensure the satisfactory provision of services in Irish by public bodies.” Ahhh. Appropriate and satisfactory. Considering that the state wilfully ignored the need for any legislation on Irish language equality for eighty years this particular caveat is sure to instil confidence. Not. 

The final sentence gives it all away: “public services to be provided through Irish are the services most in demand.” And who decides what is “most in demand”? The same people who have rejected and opposed a bilingual Irish nation for eight decades, that’s who. 

“The consultation process consists of two elements, a template for submissions and a survey. The template, which covers the main areas of operation of the Act, will give respondents an opportunity to express their views in a comprehensive manner. The survey aims to gather more concise information with regard to the provision of State services through Irish, on a quantitative and qualitative basis. The terms of reference for the review, the template for submissions and the survey can be found on the Department’s website” 

So, in theory, we could see the Official Languages Act expanded into a true piece of bilingual legislation for the state? But every single person reading this knows exactly what is going to happen, even before the “consultation” begins. The Act is simply going to be rolled back to the very minimum that the Fine Gael and Labour government can get away with; and then some.

 Take out the gov-talk and what we have from McGinley, et al, is this: we are going to hack and slash the Official Languages Act to the ground and there is sod all you can do about it. 

Welcome to Éire – sorry. Ireland.

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