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.
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.
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.
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