I’ve talked before on An Sionnach Fionn about the need for a dedicated Irish language internet address for Ireland, what is known as a country-code top-level domain name (or ccTLD). At the moment Ireland’s ccTLD is .ie (which stands for dot.ireland not dot.ireland/éire as some mealy-mouthed individuals have claimed). This gives Irish-based websites the option of using a country-specific ending for their internet address, a .ie instead of the more generic .com or .org. In Wales they have been campaigning for several years for a dedicated Welsh language domain ending, .cym. In Scotland the SNP government in Edinburgh is backing the campaign there for a .scot address with a related movement calling for a .alba for Scottish language sites. The suggestion in Scotland is for government websites using the English language to be hosted with the .scot address while the Scottish (Gaelic) language versions would be hosted with a dedicated .alba one. This would then be reflected in wider usage by private and commercial concerns.
The same solution for official bilingualism has been put forward for Ireland with a suggested Irish language ccTLD of .éire (or .eire). This would better match the state’s legal obligations in relation to the equal status of the Irish language with dedicated English and Irish language websites for state services under separate web addresses. Of course, it has been pointed out that the .éire ending should be the default address for all Irish state services since the Irish language is the national and first official language of the state (whereas English is only a second official language, emphasising the inferior legal position of the English language under the Constitution, something which the state resolutely ignores). The effect of this would be to create two addresses for websites run by the Irish state. For instance alongside gov.ie (government.dot.ireland) there would be a rialtas.éire. At the moment the Irish language version of government websites are insultingly – and arguably unconstitutionally – placed as a tacked-on language ending, such as gov.ie/ga (government.dot.ireland.slash.gaeilge). If you needed to know the true place of the Irish language and the position of Irish-speaking citizens in modern Ireland this tells you all you need to know. We are the slash-Irish despite the fact that we form over 40% of the population of the state.
In other nation-states and countries where separate language communities exist or where the state is dedicated to promoting its national identity (or simply obeying the law) the use of dedicated top level domain names indicating language use or “nationality” is commonplace. One such address ending is .cat, a special sponsored top-level domain name (or sTLD) on behalf of the Catalan language which is now widely used by organisations and institutions in Catalonia, including the government or Generalitat de Catalunya. As Catalan demands for greater autonomy or complete independence grow the redefinition of .cat as a country-code top-level domain name is only a matter of time.
Technically speaking setting up dual language sites on .ie and .éire addresses is no more difficult for the state than creating .ie and then .ie/ga addresses (arguably it is less difficult and more efficient), and the extra costs are insignificant (beyond the state registering .éire as ccTLD name).
Update: Several readers have been kind enough to contact me with some points and queries of their own.
In relation to the proposed country-code top-level domain name (or ccTLD) of .éire a few believe that the use of the síniú fada or accent over the “e” in the name would be incompatible with present internet standards. Traditionally internet addresses have been restricted to the standard Roman alphabet which has meant that non-Roman letters or characters could not be used. This of course has been a source of considerable complaints in those nations that use other alphabets (Russia, China, Japan, Saudi Arabia and many, many others) or special Roman characters (which includes Irish, French, German, Spanish and a host of other languages).
However since 2009, after several years of development, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which governs much of the internet’s standards has authorized the use of non-Roman scripts for web addresses through specially encoded domain names. In May 2010 Arabic was the first non-Roman alphabet to be implemented. Since then it has been joined by Cyrillic and Chinese characters. So in theory “.éire” is no longer technological impossible. That said, even “.eire” minus the accent might be acceptable. A matter for further discussion?
In relation to .cym it has been pointed out to me by regular reader Siôn that the preferred Welsh national domain name is now .cymru (literally dot.wales). Indeed there has been a massive surge in registrations for .cymru following the “opening” of the internet by ICANN which has proved itself to be far more popular than the alternative .wales domain address.