Heads of bill to amend the Official Languages Act must be strengthened & advanced as a matter of urgent priority
In his annual report for 2016 (published today, Tuesday, 27 June 2017), the Language Commissioner highlights the urgent need to submit the heads of bill for the Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2017 to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands as the next immediate step towards an Act that will serve the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community better and more fairly, according to Conradh na Gaeilge.
Dr Niall Comer, President of Conradh na Gaeilge says:
“A range of recommendations put forward by Conradh na Gaeilge on behalf of the community has been included in the heads of bill for the new Act, but there is still plenty to be done to ensure that the most appropriate legislation is implemented and guarantees the provision of state service through Irish for the public.
“In light of the number of complaints received by Oifig an Choimisinéara Teanga again last year, and following the office’s investigations of state bodies in the south, it is obvious that the state is failing to provide the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community with services through Irish to the same standard as their English equivalents. The state’s current approach is seriously flawed, and the situation will not be rectified without stronger legislation that adequately protects the rights of Irish speakers.”
Conradh na Gaeilge is advocating that every public service should be available through Irish in the Gaeltacht by 2020, and that at least 20% of new employees recruited to the civil service in the future should be proficient in the writing and speaking of Irish. An Coimisinéir Teanga also focuses on the critical issue of recruitment in his 2016 Annual Report, if the provision of state services in Irish is to be improved at all.
Peadar Mac Fhlannchadha, Advocacy Manager with Conradh na Gaeilge says:
“An Coimisinéir Teanga’s report clearly demonstrates that the system of language schemes does not adequately serve the needs of the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community. Of the total 116 language schemes confirmed by 2016, 55 of these had expired by the end of that same year, to say nothing of whether or not these were being properly implemented in the first place.
“While the Government has announced that the system of language schemes will come to an end in the future – to be replaced by a system of standards as recommended both by Conradh na Gaeilge and An Coimisinéir Teanga –satisfactory schemes must be agreed and implemented in the interim in the absence of anything else. We must also press on with the heads of bill for the 2017 Official Languages Bill to set down standards to take the place of weak and ineffective schemes in the longer term.”
Officers in the Department of Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs and the former Minister of State with responsibility for Gaeltacht Affairs, Seán Kyne TD, are to be commended for the work on the heads of bill to date. Conradh na Gaeilge looks forward to working with the new Minister of State, Joe McHugh TD; with An Coimisinéir Teanga; with the Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands; with the Department; and with the opposition to prioritise the strengthening of the Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2017 and its completion this year.
Conradh na Gaeilge's proposed amendments for the Official Languages Bill, 2017, can be found here.
- That every public service should be available through Irish in the Gaeltacht by 2020;
- That at least 20% of new employees recruited to the civil service in the future should be proficient in the writing and speaking of Irish, which would in turn save the state money;
- That the system of language schemes – which the Language Commissioner recently reported as having failed – should be brought to an end, to be replaced by a system of regulations and state bodies would be categorised accordingly also;
- That state forms should be available bilingually; and
- That every citizen should have the right to use the Irish-language version of their name and address.*
*The aim of this provision is to give people the right to use their name and address in either official language of the state when they communicate with public bodies. The state and public bodies will accept whatever name and address that the citizen gives them in either of the official languages and they will ensure accurate spelling, including the accent, especially in all IT systems.