In a shock announcement this afternoon Ireland’s Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, unexpectedly resigned from his office after nearly ten years of battling the institutional discrimination towards Irish-speaking citizens that permeates Ireland’s public services and political establishment. Since 2004 Mr. Ó Cuirreáin’s role has been to act as the legal guarantor for the nation’s Hibernophone communities in seeking fair and equal access to state-controlled or funded services with their Anglophone peers. However he has been continuously frustrated and undermined in that role by successive governments of all stripes and by the very organisations he was tasked with policing. From RTÉ:
“Irish Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin has announced that he is resigning from his position, citing concerns about the lack of progress in ensuring that Irish speakers can deal with the State in Irish.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin said that he felt he was left with no other choice but to resign from his role in ensuring the implementation of Irish language legislation.
He said his decision was a result of the State’s lack of commitment to the protection of Irish speakers’ rights.”
“For those generally involved with the protection or promotion of the Irish language, either professionally or voluntarily, we are in a time of great uncertainty. Never before have I seen in over 30 years’ experience – as a journalist or language commissioner – morale and confidence so low. Despite the enormous goodwill of the vast majority of the people of this country, the language continues to drift further to the margins of society including within much of the public sector; bringing it back to the mainstream is no simple procedure.
An essential first step would require that in amending the Official Languages Act as part of the programme for Government, that a clear provision be made to ensure that state employees serving the Gaeltacht communities are Irish speaking without question or conditions – forcing native Irish speakers to use English in dealing with the agencies of the State must not be allowed to continue. And in parallel, it is essential that the issue of the Irish language in recruitment and promotion in the Civil and Public Service in general be revisited immediately – there is absolutely no way that the most recent proposal in relation to the Civil Service will work.
If those two elements – the use of Irish in dealing with Gaeltacht communities and ensuring an adequate Irish language capacity in public administration – are not addressed by the State when the legislation is being amended, I fear that the exercise will be seen as a fudge, a farce or a falsehood.
As we begin to regain our economic sovereignty, it would be a travesty if we were to lose our linguistic sovereignty – a cornerstone of our cultural identity, heritage and soul as a nation. I believe this to be a clear and present danger.”
I will update as I get more news but for now it can be seen as yet another victory for English Ireland. The Ireland where speaking in the Irish language can lead to your arrest.