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.
“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.”
“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).
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?
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?
There is more information on this at Galltacht – The Hidden Ireland.
- Census 2011 And An Inconvenient Truth – Irish-Speaking Citizens On The Rise (ansionnachfionn.com)
- A Pluralist Ireland? Does That Include The 1.7 Million Irish-Speakers? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The State Of Irish – In The Irish State (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Heard The One About The Self-Hating Irishman? (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Empire Strike Back! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Good, The Bad And The Ugly (ansionnachfionn.com)
- The Future Is Irish (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Lets Speak The Truth: Those Who Hate Irish Speakers Do So Because They Are Racists… (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Irish Rights Are Equals Rights – So Fight Back! (ansionnachfionn.com)
- A Second-Class Education For Second-Class Pupils (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Smells Like No-Irish Spirit (ansionnachfionn.com)
- Discrimination Dressed As Reasonableness… Isn’t It Always? (ansionnachfionn.com)