Friday, December 13, 2019

Bill publication an important first step!

Publication of the Official Languages (Amendment Bill) is an important step, however more action needed on Gaeltacht and Recruitment. This is a translation of a statement from the Coimisinéir Teanga.

The publication of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill is an important step in the process of bringing forth a stronger and more fit-for-purpose language Act. The opportunity to examine the proposed amendments is to be welcomed, but the deficiencies in the Bill are a matter of concern.

I have continually emphasized three key reforms that I see as being necessary to strengthen the Act. These amendments relate to the provision of State services in the Gaeltacht, changes in State recruitment policies, and the establishment of a system of language standards placing a clearer obligation on public bodies to serve the public in the country's first official language.

Reference is made in the new Bill to these matters and to a number of other important provisions, but the Bill, as it currently stands, does not adequately address some of the most important issues relating to the provision of public services through Irish and protecting the
language rights of the community.

The Gaeltacht
The fragile state of Irish in Gaeltacht areas is evident in the census results and in various pieces
of research over the past number of years. It is therefore vital that the provision of public
services through Irish in the Gaeltacht is placed on a statutory footing and that the language
rights of the Gaeltacht community should be underpinned by the legislation. Unfortunately,
at this stage, the Bill contains no firm provisions placing a duty upon the State to ensure that
the Gaeltacht community is served in their native language.

I support the recommendation that a national statutory plan for the provision of public
services through Irish be prepared and I agree that new recruitment policies and practices
should be an integral part of this plan. However, I am concerned that external experts and
the public are not adequately represented on the Advisory Committee to be established
under the amended Act to prepare the implementation plan. I am also concerned that there
is no stated deadline for the publication of the plan and that there is no statutory obligation
to implement any agreed plan.

System of Standards
One of the main provisions of the Bill is the proposal to replace the language schemes system
with a system of language standards. This is a worthwhile proposal, but it is difficult to judge
the possible impact of this change without sight of the draft standards. I believe that the
timely production of these draft standards would greatly benefit the process of assessing the

In the coming weeks we will have an opportunity to dissect the proposed amendments to
the Official Languages Act and indeed other important matters not mentioned in this Bill.
The weaknesses in the existing legislation have long been highlighted and should be
addressed at this juncture. To not do so would be a missed opportunity.

In the course of this debate it is important that the needs of the language community and
their rights continue to be addressed, taking into account the status of Irish as the national
and first official language of the country.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019


In this blog last month I lamented the lack of knowledge of Irish literature among those Irish people who are unable to read it (in many cases after 11 years of study). In that article I mentioned in passing the remarks of a former Professor of Irish in Cork University, Alan Titley.

He has written (as he does almost every week) an article in the Irish Times (Irish) praising the decision of Education Minister Joe McHugh to continue the provision of history as a subject in our schools. This was despite the strong recommendations to the contrary including from the NCAA.

There was a paragraph in his article which struck me forcefully.
"Tá scoláireacht/aí dochtúireachta á dtairiscint ag Ollscoil Áth na Bó (nó Oxford duitse) ar son staidéir a dhéanamh ar stair na hÉireann san 18ú haois. Só bhfat? arsa tusa. Is í an mhórdhifríocht ná gur scoláireacht í ina gcaithfear leas a bhaint as na foinsí Gaeilge - na mílte díobh - d’fhonn na hoibre a dhéanamh. Is cuma nó réabhlóid sa staireolaíocht an méid seo féin.

Tá nach mór dochreidte gur scríobhadh stair na hÉireann tar éis turnamh na meánaoiseanna gan beann ar bith ar theanga na ndaoine a raibh an stair á scríobh fúthu..."

(There is a scholorship/docturship being offered by Oxford University for study on Irish history in the 18th century. What's unusual about that you might say. Of great interest is the fact that this study must use the resources available in Irish - thousands of them - in order to complete this work. This could be regarded as a revolution in its own right.

It is almost incredible that the history of Ireland after the collapse of the middle ages without the slightest reference to the language of the people about whom this history was been written...)

In fact this is perhaps the basis of the name I have given this blog - The Hidden Ireland. It is the name of a seminal work by another scholar of the School of Munster*, Daniel Corkery.

Of course, as Titley point out, there are historians who mine this rich resource like Vincent Morley, Néill Uí Chiosáin, Ghearóid Uí Thuathaigh, Bhreandáin Uí Bhuachalla and others but how many are blind to it's wealth. However how strange it is that the history of Ireland often is in fact the history of the English government of Ireland.

He wonders "Cad ina thaobh nár smaoinigh ollscoil éigin abhus ar bheart chomh réabhlóideach, chomh coimeádach, chomh soiléir, chomh lom, chomh nach mór meabhairphléascach sin, nárbh fholáir do staraithe na bunfhoinsí a léamh?"
(Why did no university here think of a plan so revolutionary, so conservative, so clear, so obvious, so mindbloggingly explosive as to suggest that historian read the basic sources!)

He asks is an of the Irish educational institutions ready to take up the challange.


Translations are entirely my own and I have take a little liberty to get the message across and thus loose the author's pithy and imaginative delivery found in the original.

* Ionad Bairre Sgoil na Mumhan - Motto of UCC

Saturday, September 7, 2019

Our literature? What are we missing?

I recently visited the incredible Charlie Byrne treasure trove on Middle Street in Galway. It is truly a remarkable place and there as yet many undiscovered treasures hidden in a Labyrinth of passages, rooms and annexes.

(People say there is no need to look of cases or forms of English - I found that I had to search for the plural form of "Annex!" But I'm drifting away from what I initially wanted to say! In one section I found a selection of books in Irish and it set me thinking.)

Irish literature in Charlie Byrnes Bookshop 6 September 2019

While there browsing I came across a section with books written in Irish and this started me thinking. What IS Irish literature? Surely this collection should be regarded as Irish Literature in the true sense.

Is literature regarded as the nationality of the writer or that of the language? I remember the great German writer and Nobel Laureate, Heinrich Böll was interviewed on British television. He was asked why he did not write in English and his reply was interesting. "If I wrote in English I would be more English than the Prime Minister!" He appeared therefore to regard writing in English as an English thing.

Perhaps we might say that writings on Irish subjects or topics are Irish Literature. If that is the criteria then perhaps the famous book of the same German author, Irisches Tagesbuch, could be classed as Irish Literature? Or conversly one of the most entertaining books I have read in recent times, "An Tionscadal" by Tomás Mac Síomóin (Coiscéim) could be classed as Catalan Literature? I understand the French regard Samuel Becket's work as French literature.

Irish, Dutch or Brazilian?
Can the short story collection "Gonta" written by Netherlands native, Alex Hijmans (Cois Life) about people in Bahia be Dutch or Brazilain literature? Recognised  as the best collection of short stories since 2000 by the critical journal Comhair in 2013. Can literature be multinational then?

Recently Iris Murdoch has been called an Irish writer and like Elizabeth Bowen she may be described as such by birth. But can their work be described as Irish Literature? Their topics can hardly be described as Irish.

Looking at the literature publications in Ireland few acknowledge, except in a passing reference, to the literature in the National Language. Full of references to Yeats, Joyce, O'Casey, Wilde or more recent authors. Yes, these and the more modern authors in English are worth reading. Study of them can be enriching. They do display a certain aspect of life in Ireland in the last two hundred years but they build almost exclusively on the giants of English literature. But if you look book reviews in the English language media in Ireland, these are almost exclusively what they regard as "Irish Literature." (An honourable exception is Children's Book Ireland who place both Irish and English publications together on their own merit as literature rather than place them in a linguistic ghetto!)

So what am I saying.

There is a hidden treasure in our country. It is a thriving rich literary tradition in Ireland in our National Language. Rich not materially, as Máirtín Ó Cadhain adverred but in tradition going back not 200 years but nearly two thousand years (if not more). It is in fact the oldest written language in Europe which is still a spoken language too. It has perhaps been enriched with its contact with European literature especially pre 1700 and by English literature since that time. But drop into any book shop  - I exclude specialist shops here* - and you would be hard pressed to find any of this uniquely and indisputably Irish literature.

I remember seeing another author, Alan Titley, address a meeting in the Oireachtas (The parliament not the festival) on the lack of true understanding that ignorance of literature written in Irish hinders. How many histories of the period, the centenery of which we are celebrating in these days, have been written with out reference or even knowledge of the works published in Irish? How many of our historians have read the three volume autobiography of Ernest Blyth or the works of Pádraic Ó Conaire?

Does not this ignorance render our nation so much the poorer? There is a real lacuna in how the literary establishment treat Irish authors. Awards, when they acknowledge works in Irish ghettoise it - "The Irish Language award!" They appear never to judge it on equal terms with the works in English as the "Best poetry Award, " or best work in fiction.

Surely we should commemorate and support it for what it is - true Irish literature.

* Such as An Siopa Leabhair on Harcourt Street in Dublin or Cló Iarchonnacht's Shop behind the Ceardlann in An Spidéal.

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Good news for Irish education welcomed.

‘Announcement by the Minister for Education of new criteria for the founding of Gaelscoileanna is a positive development’

An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill has welcomed today’s announcement by the Minister for Education and Skills Joe McHugh, T.D., that 5 of the 13 primary schools to be established between now and 2022 have been predesignated as Irish – medium schools.

In an investigation conducted by An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2017 he ruled that the Department of Education and Skills breached language provisions of the Education Act, 1998, when a patronage application for a new Irish-medium primary school in the Drumcondra/Marino/Dublin 1 school planning area was rejected. An Coimisinéir Teanga ruled that the language objectives of the Education Act were not adequately addressed in the evaluation process for deciding school patrons.

The implementation of the report’s recommendations are a matter of continuing discussion with the Department of Education and Skills. Today’s announcement that the evaluation criteria for the patronage process are being changed is a positive development that will benefit Irish-medium education. It means that the option of an Irish-medium education should be available in the future in areas where a new school is being built but where that option is not available at present.

It should also be ensured that the measures introduced by the Department of Education and Skills meet the extra demand for Irish-medium education and that is a matter that is still being discussed with the Department.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

What's that in English?

You can sit on a mountain but you can't sit on a pin!

Not again!
Imagine if you can Silvio Berlusconi entering the European Parliament to which he has just been elected.

"Who are you?"

"Silvio Berlusconi, newly elected representative from the Republic of Italy."

"What would that be in English?"

This is something that happens regularly in Ireland to people who use the (more correct) form of their surname. It has happend to me as recently as last week.

I had to go into a local hospital in the Gaeltacht serving city of Galway for a medical procedure. For safety reasons the very efficient and friendly staff of these establishments must check your name date of birth etc. to ensure that your are the correct person for this procedure.

Checking my name one of those checking queried my surname, "And whats that in English, Eoin?" I just said that's my surname, "It's a old Wexford name!" I went on to talk about other surnames from Wexford in my family background including my great-grandmother who was a Hore - one of the Hores of the Moyne as my grandfather used to smilingly refer to her in the days when I had no idea that there could be any other word with the same sound, a different spelling and a completely different meaning!

On other occasions I have been told directly "That's Ryan isn't it?" Now as I appriach my dotage I no longer acquiesce and say no it isn't it's "Ó Riain." Prior to this i might have agreed for a quiet life!

I have also been told that I should not have not to use that form of my name. I decided to use it and only that form when I came to voting age. I feel that after over fifty years this decision should not be queried. Perhaps I am naive?

Recently the film director, Ciarán Ó Cofaigh drew our attention to the apparant inability of may of our public (and private) institutions to cope with the accent or long sign over vowels. "It's the esence of who I am!"  (RTÉ, 9/4/2019) This is I suppose part of the same problem. Try booking a seat on IarnRód Éireann or on an Aer Lingus plane if your name has an accent!

Respect: My name tag from a conference
in the Netherlands. 
It is a problem I have only come across here in Ireland. In my somewhat limited experience abroad - including Mother England believe it or believe it not - the fada on my surname is nearly always respected. In Ireland it is invariable either left out (acceptable) or replaced with a following (and meaningless) apostrophy. Nobody outside of Ireland asks me the fatal question, "What's that in English?"

I agree it is in one way a small irritant. But as the saying goes, "You can sit on a mountain but you can't sit on a pin!" The Comisinéir Teanga has said, "Our name and surname is an integral part of our identity and no person or organisation should take it upon itself to anglicise this." (Annual Report 2015, Page 7)

The ruling of a judge reported in yesterday's Irish Times (12/7/2019) has perhaps some relevance. The Judge refers to “a historically lukewarm State commitment to the giving of practical support and resources to support the language in the administration of justice”, or in any of its services I would add.

If the state is so lukewarm is it any surprise that those in the service of the public show a similar disregard?

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

The first monitoring report published by An Coimisinéir Teanga.

"These results do not engender any confidence that government departments are displaying the necessary leadership in ensuring that sufficient numbers of staff with Irish are employed by them. The low level of employees with Irish means that there cannot be an expectation of a comprehensive range of services of equal standard being provided in both official languages." The Coimisinéir Teanga

This monitoring report, just published gives the results of the various audits completed by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2018. The following are the main results of the audits: 
  • Only 84 positions of the 20,000 employed by government departments are recognised as positions with an Irish language requirement. 67 of those positions are in the Department of Culture, Heritage & the Gaeltacht. 
  • Only two local authorities of the ten examined were complying for the most part with the statutory language commitments relating to their websites. 
  • Almost 60% of signs examined at heritage sites under the auspices of the Office of Public Works were in compliance with the regulations. 
Staff with Irish in government departments 
At the time of the audit 7 government departments had not identified any positions as ones with an Irish language requirement. Other than the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht with 10%, the number of positions identified as ones with an Irish language requirement was below 1%. 
In total only 551 staff out of the 21,060 (2.62%) employed by government departments were identified as staff having competence in the Irish language. Only two government departments in the country – the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Education and Skills – have more than 5% of employees with competence in Irish. 

An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, stated that “These figures are a further indication of the lack of capacity of the State to deliver an acceptable level of service in the Irish language. These results do not engender any confidence that government departments are displaying the necessary leadership in ensuring that sufficient numbers of staff with Irish are employed by them. The low level of employees with Irish means that there cannot be an expectation of a comprehensive range of services of equal standard being provided in both official languages. This must be addressed by amending the Act and the recruitment policies of the State.” 

• Irish language shortcomings must be addressed (RTÉ 11/7/2019)

• A crisis in the number of competent Irish language speakers in the State system shown clearly in the Coimisinéir Teanga’s report (CnaG 11/7/2019)
Local authorities’ websites 
As part of the 2018 audit programme a number of local authorities’ websites were examined to assess if they were in compliance with the relevant commitments provided in their language schemes. Of the ten local authorities’ websites examined four were non-complying for the most part with the commitments provided. These were Clare County Council, Wicklow County Council, Louth County Council and Kerry County Council. Two local authorities – Galway County Council and Dublin City Council – were in compliance with their obligations for the most part. 

Signs at heritage sites 
The use of the official languages on signs at various heritage sites managed by the Office of Public Works was also examined. Ten separate heritage sites in Dublin were audited during 2018. Five of the ten sites examined achieved an acceptable level of compliance. The highest level of compliance was achieved by the Pearse Museum in Rathfarnham at 89% and the lowest level of compliance by the National Botanic Gardens where only one out of ten signs examined were in line with regulations. 

This is the first year that the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga has published a separate report on the Office’s monitoring work, which is limited to monitoring the provisions of the Official Languages Act only. An Coimisinéir Teanga decided to change the Office’s monitoring process, which focused mainly on language schemes, in light of the shortcomings that were identified in the Commentary published on the language scheme system. As part of the new monitoring model An Coimisinéir Teanga identifies annual monitoring priorities encompassing various elements of the Act. 

Thursday, April 4, 2019

2018: A productive and important year!

Irish language provisions of the Broadcasting Act; the inability of computer systems to use the síneadh fada; and a formal investigation, for the first time, into the use of Twitter for official purposes amongst the matters highlighted in the 2018 Annual Report of An Coimisinéir Teanga.

This year was a productive and important one for the Office of the Official Languages Commissioner. Some very significant investigations relating to difficulties accessing services through Irish, both nationally and in the Gaeltacht, were initiated and concluded.

RTÉ is not fulfilling a statutory requirement outlined in the Broadcasting Act 2009.
An investigation by the State’s Official Languages Commissioner has found the amount of programming broadcast in Irish by RTÉ to be seriously deficient, at odds with the will of the Oireachtas and in breach of the language provisions of the Broadcasting Act 2009. The investigation found that less than 1% of programmes broadcast on RTÉ television are classified as Irish language programmes, despite a statutory obligation to broadcast a comprehensive range of programmes in the language.

An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill said…
    “This is one of the most significant investigations conducted by my Office since its foundation. This is the first time compliance with the Broadcasting Act, insofar as it relates to Irish language broadcasting, has been formally investigated. The results of the investigation reveal that only 0.7% of programmes broadcast on RTÉ television are classified as Irish language programmes. Or, in other words, approximately 99% of programmes are in English only.”
The investigation also found that some of the genres RTÉ is obliged to cover in Irish by the Broadcasting Act were either not catered for at all by RTÉ or only catered for in a very limited fashion. The report finds that while RTÉ has a clear definition of what constitutes ‘comprehensive coverage’ in the English language that there appears to be a drastically different understanding of what this means in relation to its Irish language coverage.

An Coimisinéir Teanga has recommended that RTÉ provides his Office with an implementation plan setting out the measures to be taken by the national broadcaster to ensure it meets its statutory language obligations.
    “It is clear that the amount of Irish-language programming needs to be increased in a systematic and comprehensive manner, in many programme areas, to meet the obligations of the Broadcasting Act.”
Other investigations
The details of this investigation, as well as the other seven investigations carried out by An Coimisinéir Teanga, are outlined in the Annual Report of the Language Commissioner for 2018.

These include investigations into:
  • Galway County Council regarding the issuing of tweets relating to the Gaeltacht which were issued in English only. This was in breach of its own statutory language scheme. It is also the first time a formal investigation by this Office dealt with the use of Twitter.
  • The Department of Housing, Planning & Local Government that breached language legislation by not publishing part of the Project Ireland 2040 plan in Irish when it was launched
  • Iarnród Éireann over its inability to use the síneadh fada on its on-board reservations system, as well as breaches of legislation in relation to signage
  • Cork County Council over its use of Google Translate on its website and
  • The Department of Agriculture, Food & the Marine for advertising jobs in Gaeltacht areas without any Irish language requirement being attached to those positions
In addition to these investigations Mr Ó Domhnaill stated that the level of cooperation his Office received from the Abbey Theatre was not commensurate with the standard he would expect from the country’s national theatre and was a matter of some disappointment. An Coimisinéir Teanga found in an investigation that some of the signage used in the theatre was in contravention of statutory obligations concerning the official languages.

In total the Office received 634 complaints from members of the public last year, a slight decrease (0.63%) from 2017. Most of the complaints related to the lack of Irish on websites, application forms, signage and stationery. The vast majority were resolved through the informal resolution mechanism operated by the Office.

Mr Ó Domhnaill highlighted the fact that almost half the complaints his Office received last year related to areas not covered by the Official Languages Act. He remarked:
    “This shows, once again, the urgent need for the Official Languages Act to be revised to ensure it is fit for purpose and meeting the needs of people who wish to avail of services through Irish from the State. At present there is an obvious disconnect between what people seeking services through Irish want and what they receive. This needs to be addressed through a stronger and more effective Language Act as soon as possible.”
Other Activities
The report also contains details of the activities of the Coimisinéir throughout the year including participating in meetings, seminars and celebrations directly or indirectly connected with language related topics.

The Coimisinéir's status is enhanced by the recognition he and his office receives both at home and abroad. The first Coimisinéir Seán Ó Cuirreáin was instrumental in forming the International Association of Language Commissioners and Rónán Ó Domhnail is currently the Chair of this body with members from different continents.

He is also a member of the Ombudsman Association. This is an association of all the Ombudsman Offices in Ireland and Great Britain.

He was appointed Chairperson of the Irish Ombudsman Forum in 2017. The Ombudsman Forum, comprises seven members and meets once every quarter. The other members of the Forum are the Ombudsman, the Financial Services and Pensions Ombudsman, the Ombudsman for Children, the Press Ombudsman, the Defence Forces Ombudsman and the Garda Síochána Ombudsman Commission.

Fóram na Gaeilge is a forum for leaders of Irish language state organisations to update each other and share feedback on the most important aspects of our organisations' agendas. They are individual organisations acting independently of each other, but having much in common. The other members of the Fóram are Foras na Gaeilge, Údarás na Gaeltachta, An Foras Pátrúnachta and An Chomhairle um Oideachas Gaeltachta & Gaelscolaíochta.

I am always interested in the cost of state services and in view of the many and varied accounts on the amount of money that is spent on Irish. As has been the case over the years I have been more than impressed at the amount of work accomplished by this office for such a small amount of money. A budget of €753,000 was provided for the Office for 2018 and €746,623 of that money was drawn down.

As the report states: "This year was a productive and important one for the Office. Some very significant investigations relating to difficulties accessing services through Irish, both nationally and in the Gaeltacht, were initiated and concluded."

The bilingual report may be downloaded from the website here.