Up to a few years ago my local branch of Tescos, the British retail giant that expanded into the Irish market during the heyday of the Celtic Tiger, displayed a number of bilingual signs on their premises that carried small-font Irish translations below large-font English names (pretty much like our road signs and most government buildings, and as pointed an illustration of cultural status as one could find). However they eventually disappeared to be replaced by monolingual English signs without any explanation as to why. So it’s with interest that I read this report from the Irish Times:
“Tesco is considering the introduction of bilingual self-service checkouts across the supermarket chain’s 146 shops in the State.
The move to update software with Irish language capability is being “actively” considered, a company spokesman said. It follows the introduction of a similar programme in Wales six years ago.
Customers at one of the largest Tesco shops in the West can already pay for their shopping in Irish following the recent introduction of Irish language services at the Galway Shopping Centre branch.
The retailer has designated a till at the company’s Headford Road branch for Irish speakers on foot of the positive reaction to the introduction of bilingual signage throughout the shop last summer.
The company has extended the use of bilingual signage to staff areas, delivery vans and to the canteen where the menu has also been translated. Classes have been held for staff and have been well received by staff.
Branch manager Denis McCarthy said the reaction has been very positive.
“If you walk around the store and listen to people, you’d be amazed at the number that speak Irish naturally as they walk around – doing their shopping, with their kids, or on the phone.”
The company has also posted staff policies, rosters and office signage in Irish. The canteen menu has been translated and twelve staff members wear designated badges to say they speak the language.
Not only has the introduction of Irish as a working language appealed to native Irish speakers – others have taken the opportunity to either brush up on the Irish they learned at school as have some who are new to it altogether.
Texan Patti Feerick who is personnel manager at the Headford Road branch has availed of the lessons herself along with some Polish colleagues.
“It’s amazing the amount of people that come out of the woodwork. We have a very large Polish community as well and they’re taking on the language,” she said.”
The success of the campaign by civil rights activists in Wales to have bilingual services provided by Tesco and other retail stores operating in their country has been little short of astonishing. A long and hard fought struggle with a mix of passive and very much in-your-face lobbying has yielded huge benefits (though there is still much further to go until true equality of service is reached). So what are Ireland’s nation-wide language groups doing to effect change here? The people in Galway have shown what is possible but that cannot remain an isolated success. Lots of tried and tested campaigning ideas suggest themselves. Email blitzes on head-offices, marches or pickets outside monolingual-only supermarkets and shops, lobbying local politicians and journalists, etc.
So who is going to start the ball rolling?