Wednesday, June 15, 2022

20% complaints related to a lack of services through Irish during the pandemic.

The statutory duty to provide a service in Irish does not depend on the particular situation involved, the priorities or resources of the public body.

An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill has said that many people who contacted his office last year expressed serious disappointment that state services through Irish were often marginalised during the pandemic. One third of Covid-19 complaints concerned interactive services, such as booking a PCR Test or a vaccine appointment online, not being available in the first official language of the State.

The Commisinéir said: “A total of 123 complaints were received this year related to the health crisis. Many of those complaints could not be investigated due to a lack of provision in legislation requiring satisfactory service through Irish. The matter highlights again the importance on giving effect to the provisions in new Official Languages Act which came into law late last year.

“My Office will be undertaking a substantial information and public awareness campaign later this year to emphasise the importance of the new legislative provisions to both the public and public bodies. If the various provisions of the new Act are properly implemented, the public shall benefit from the availablity of a wider range of services through Irish than heretofore.”

Some of the main provisions in the new Act include:

  • An objective that by 2030 20% of new recruits to the public service and Civil Service be proficient in Irish
  • A provision requiring public bodies to ensure that at least 20% of their annual advertising is in Irish
  • A provision to ensure communications with a public body on social media are answered in the same language.

The monitoring function of An Coimisinéir Teanga continued last year and is highlighted in the annual report. The monitoring included following-up on recommendations in previous investigations relating to public bodies such as the Department of Education, the Educational Research Centre and RTÉ

The Coimisinéir Teanga looks forward in due course to utilising a new function in the revised Official Languages Act which will enable him to monitor any enactments relating to the use of the Irish language, not just the Official Languages Act as is at present. 

Five formal investigations were concluded by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2021. One investigation found that Meath County Council breached the Meath County Development Plan by not ensuring the linguistic heritage of the Gaeltacht there was protected when determining planning applications in Ráth Chairn.

Two other investigations related to Dún-Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council and their failure to appoint an Irish-language officer and their failure to ensure that a newsletter distributed throughout the area was available in Irish also.

A total of 727 complaints were made to the Office last year – a 20% increase on 2020. 27% of complaints came from Dublin, with a further 27% from Gaeltacht regions – a 4% increase on 2020.


Saturday, February 12, 2022

Trydar, Tweets or Giolcacha!

There is an interesting article in todays Guardian (Am I the only person who still thinks of it as the Manchester Guardian - like the Examiner I still think of it's original local affiliation?).

It is talking about an English speaking journalist who spent many years abroad serving the English press returning home and finding that his country has "reverted" to a truly respectful attitude to its own ancient heritage. There are some similarities perhaps to Ireland too.

I mostly follow the Irish language media, Raidío na Gaeltachta, TG4, Tuairisc, Meoin Eile and Nós and all too few print publications - no daily or weekly is published.

I do not follow the English Language media published in Ireland (The Irish media?) - though it is almost impossible to ignore it's smothering presence. Anyway back to the hillsides of Wales. The language there is respected. The Welsh Government tries to truly represent all the people. They even have two twitter accounts, @LlywodraethCym and @WelshGovernment.

Respect or?
What has Ireland got? 

@merrionstreet is an English Language presence with the odd tweet in Irish - mostly about Language issues though more recently some other topics have sneaked through. Even the President is @PresidentIRL and of late seems to have abandoned routine tweets in the National Language. The Taoiseach never tweets in Irish.

Even the Department with responsibility for the Gaeltacht - @DeptCulturelRL - is in English. Only one unlikely Government Department has the Irish name for its twitter handle - can you guess which?

Indeed the European Parliament with it's Irish twitter account seems to tweet more in this official language than the account of most if not all Government Departments or the Houses of the Oireachtas.

Only two State Bodies regularly publish bilingually on twitter (or at all), both based in the Gaeltacht - Udarás na Gaeltachta and the Coimisinéir Teanga. (Raidío na Gaeltachta and TG4 do mostly publish in Irish of course.) The only State Organisation that has both an Irish & English Language twitter account is The Central Statistic Office @POStaidrimh  and @CSOIreland. Who'll be next?

Even when a Government Department provides an Irish version of a release or policy or a consultation it rarely if ever publicises it. 

The article in the Guardian makes good and encouraging reading for those anxious to ensure the continuation (no not preservation!) of the original language of the Britons. It does however slip into some of the misconceptions people who speak Irish will recognise. It condescendingly describes Hew Edwards, long time anchor of BBC TV News, as an "evangelical Welsh speaker." We are used to this condescension in any obituaries or descriptions have we in Ireland seen, "Irish language enthusiast," "fluent Irish Speaker" "Inverterate Irish speaker" etc etc. I have heard Hew Edwards speak in Welsh on television once. It is his language. He is hardly an evangelist. Was Angela Merkel a language evangelist because she only spoke publicly in German?

A lot of people speak in Irish, my neighbours do, because it is the language of the place. It is their language. Few if any can be described as "evangelists" or even "enthusiasts." They speak Irish because it is their means of communication. Yet the state makes it virtually impossible for them to communicate indeed actually discourages it use. 

Recently I sense that Irish does seem to be more alive on line - like Welsh because of Raidío na Gaeltachta and TG4 but also I believe because of the influence of the Irish Speaking schools. There are other outlets too in radio, print and social media (and not all with State support).

It looks like there will be a long wait however for our Government to emulate the Welsh example. Maybe it's time for another commission or study group.

Monday, January 17, 2022

More than seven minutes and one hundred years!

During this time of centennial commemorations it is perhaps interesting to see just how advanced our country has advanced as a nation.

Shortly before his death and after he signed the treaty and taken Dublin Castle Collins oar as he signed himself, Mícheál Ó Coilean said, "We have now won the first victory... the biggest task will be the restoration of the language ... Irish will scarcely be our language in this generation, not even perhaps in the next. But until we have it again on our tongues and in our minds we are not free ..." (The Path to Freedom - published some months after his death in 1922).

There are those who feel that the low-key transfer of power in Dublin Castle marked the end of the struggle. Of course it was, as the "Big Fella" said "the first victory." There was more to be achieved.

Of course there are some good signs to be seen. The Oireachtas Committee on Irish & The Irish Speaking Communities, first established in 2016 under the intrepid Galway TD, Catherine Connolly (@catherinegalway) and continued in the current Oireachtas under Aenghus Ó Snodaigh (@aosnodaigh) has been doing real thoughtful work. Although initially contributions featured the usual encomiums to the language and hope the contributors loved it and tributes to its beauty it has now settled down to really important work and in no small measure has contributed to the debates in both ouses of the Oireachtas. 
The final measures in the recognition of our language as an official language of Europe should also help increase respect and its use in officialdom. Seán Kelly's works in trying to encourage its use in the Parliament is also meeting some success.
The treaty of accession to the European Community (now European Union) in 1973 was signed by the then Taoiseach in Irish.

Not least of these was the reconciliation with those who still felt a loyalty to the Westminster Parliament and and whose leader, Dublin man Edward Carson, expressed the year before as the New Northern Ireland was set up in 1921, "What a fool I was. I was only a puppet, and so was Ulster, and so was Ireland, in the political game that was to get the Conservative party into power.” (plus ça change!)  Many believe that the treaty of December 1921 set up Northern Ireland. This is not so. It was established by a Westminster Act of Parliament in May 1920 and the first session of the Northern Ireland Parliament was opened by King George V in June 1921 thus it was a entity at the time that the treaty negotiations commenced during Autumn 1921.

The other victory Collins looked forward to was the reversal of the policy of those who "destroyed our language, all but destroyed it, and in giving us their own they cursed us so that we have become its slaves."

Today, one hundred years on how has this task progressed. If we look at communications from the Irish Parliament in Leinster House - Houses og the Oireachtas - which tweets message for the most part in English as @OireachtasNews. (The European Parliament in contrast has an Irish label and tweets almost daily in Irish as @Europarl_GA with  the "Nuacht is déanaí de chuid na Parlaiminte.").

Uachtarán na hÉireann, Michael D Higgins, inexplicably tweets under the title @PresidentIRL has usually tweeted each message in Irish and in English (though this practise seems to have fallen into abeyance in the last few months).

The current Taoiseach (@MichealMartinTD) rarely tweets in Irish (the last time was 9th December), indeed he even expressed his sorrow at the death of Máire Mhac an tSaoi, the great poet in our language, not in the language of her poetry but in the language of the Bard of Avon.

The Government Departments rarely tweet anything in Irish - even the so-called Department of Culture (@DeptCulturelRL).

In a country that officially espouses bilingualism as a state policy no Government Department has a truly bi-lingual website. The only State organisations that have truly bilingual websites are Udarás na Gaeltachta and that of the Comisinéir Teanga.  Foras na Gaeilge,  which is a cross-border body, also mantains a bilingual website.

Not one elected political has a website that can be remotely be called bi-lingual. Thus no political party can truly be said to represent the Irish speaking community or the Gaeltacht Areas. (The same may be said for the websites of any of the Church groups including those which contain the largest Gaeltacht areas within their dioceses.

There is little sign of the slavery referred by Michael Collins being cast aside even as we commemorate him and his patriotism. The picture (from at the top shows members of the army with covered mouths - unknowingly symbols of this slavery?

For my own part I will feel the the so-called language policy success is when I can renew my driving license or public service card without difficulty or question in what our constitution calls the National Language.

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Significant advancement of language rights.

An Coimisinéir Teanga welcomes enactmentof new Official Languages Bill but also stresses the importance of the full implementation of the Act.

Having considered the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019, the President, Michael D Higgins, has signed the Bill and it has accordingly become law.

An Coimisinéir Teanga has said there has been significant progress as regards language rights as a result of the enactmentof a new Official Languages Act. Rónán Ó Domhnaill also said, however, that what’s most important now is that the Act is implemented as intended.

President signs Irish language rights legislation into law (Irish Times)
Official Languages Act (Amendment) 2021 signed by the President of Ireland (Dept of Culture Irl)
“The enactmentof this legislationcertainly signifies progress as regards language rights. The State must act in a practical and proactive way to give effect to the clear objective in the Act that by 2030 20% of new recruits to the public sector and to the Civil Service be proficient in Irish. It’s clear that the work of the Advisory Committee, to be established under the Act, and the National Plan for the Provision of State Services through Irish, which will have a statutory basis, will be critical in ensuring an increase of Irish speakers in the public service.”

Some of the provisions in the new legislation include:

  • An objective that by 2030 20% of new recruits to the public sector and the Civil Service be proficient in Irish.
  • Confirmation that a deadline will be set wherebyall State services in Gaeltacht regions will be available through Irish.
  • A new monitoring function for An Coimisinéir Teanga.
  • A provision to end the language scheme system and replace it with a system of language standards.
  • A provision to ensure that communications with a public body on social media are answered in the same language.
  • A provision requiringpublic bodies to ensure that marketing material distributed to a class of the public be in Irish.
  • A provision requiringpublic bodies to ensure that 20% of their annual advertising is in Irish.
  • A provision to ensure application forms are available in Irish.
  • A provision to ensure that the logos of public bodies are in Irish or in Irish and English.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill said that his Office will be advising the public regarding the strengthening of language rights as a result of the new legislation. His Office will also advise public bodies regarding their new statutory obligations. The provisions will take effect over time and this work must begin without delay, An Coimisinéir Teanga declared.

The Commisonéir's office is currently reviewing the website to take into account the amendments to the legislation arising from the new Act. It is hoped to conclude this review early in the New Year. In the interim, any question in respect of any specific provision of the new Act may be made directly with his office.

@PresidentIRL @Ceartateanga @OireachtasNews #AchtTeanga

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

"You are not on the system at all..."

A Kafkaesque tale from 21st century Ireland!

Ciarán Ó Feinneadha is a respectable accountant, steady, reliable and usually unflappable. Like all people who interact with the Irish state in the National Language he experiences a fair amount of difficulty if not downright obstruction.

The Irish Language home page of
the Dept of Social Protection
Things like computer problems with diacritics. Why this is a problem is difficult to understand since most languages do have diacretics to a far larger extent that Irish. We have the síne fada (or l'accent aigu of French) which often alters the meaning of a word or it's absence makes a word meaningless. Take the name of the country Éire. Without the síne fada this the word "eire" means burden or encumberance. The male name Seán (from Norman French "Jean") becomes "old" when spelt "sean". One would imagine that country would take account of its official language when specifying equipment. 

Finding personnel with the ability to actually communicate in the language is another difficulty. Another problem faced is the inability of people to accept the given name or surname. All people who use the Irish (and correct form) of their surname have experienced questioning, "What's that in English?" I usually reply "Track" or "Trace" which is really on trend nowadays. (See!)

These are everyday problems for the Irish speaker trying to excercise his constitutional rights to using the National Language which is the Official Language of the state. ("Ós í an Ghaeilge an teanga náisiúnta is í an phríomhtheanga oifigiúil í." - Since Irish is the National Language it is the principal official language! Alt 8.1 Bunreacht na hÉireann). 

Naturally many people get tired of the incessant trouble they experience in dealing with the state and as often as not revert to English in order to save time and bother. No doubt the also contributes to the retreat of the Irish speaking areas and the so-called lack of demand for services in Irish that the civil servants report. If you want to read about some of these cases you could do worse than looks up any of the reports from the Coimisinéir Teanga since the institution of that office. 

But back to Ciarán.

An Scéal seo ar Gaeltacht21:
He tells us on his facebook page that he has refrained from speaking publicly on the matter of the frequent failings of the state (Dept of Health & HSE) to consider, let alone serve, Irish speakers in the current pandemic. He has shown remarkable constraint since the Coimisnéir Teanga says that no less than 20% of all complaints received in the office during 2020 were related to the pandemic. "One in five complaints I received this year related to the health crisis," his recently published report states (Page 6).

The straw that broke the camels back for Ciarán was another State Department entirely - the Department of Social Protection. He starts by listing three irritating occasions where the state failed to serve him as a user of the First Official language of the state during July 2020 alone. then he goes on:

Ciarán Ó Feinneadha
"I needed to get a Public Services Card and in order to obtain that the Department of Social Protection had to confirm my birth certificate electronically. 

"My parents baptized me Ciarán Ó Feinneadha. In my discussions with the local Office I was told “You are not on the system” and “you are not on the system at all”. So on the registration system for birth certificates by the Irish government there is no ‘Ciarán Ó Feinneadha’. They have translated my surname into an English surname they have created for me to file my real name in the system. I was told on three occasions that they have done this for everyone who has an Irish surname. 

"The correct Irish version is still on the certificate itself but they have translated all our Irish surnames into English (if it is English) and have filed us in that English version only. So when they tried to confirm my birth certificate I was asked what the English version of my name was and of course I refused to invent one because it doesn't exist - I'm kind of ashamed to claim WARRIOR of course. So the local office couldn't find me in the system without the corrupted "English" version of the name under which I was filed, which I or my parents have never used. 


"Both my parents have passed away in recent years and I feel that this is a personal insult to them as well as to me and to all Gaels. As well as being abusive and rude - it appears that their (the Department's) anti-Irishness has taken away all human understanding."

Comments on this on his page range from incandescent indignation to "well what do you expect?"

My own comment as a taxpayer to this state since 1966 and still suffering this kind of disrespect is a very weary indignation and very little surprise.

• A personal apology has been made to Ciarán but a statement to leaves many questions unanswered. Conradh na Gaeilge is seeking a meeting and a trawl through the records to find out how many other cases like this may occur. (see Article 5/8/2021)

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

County council and Eircode lack of co-operation may lead to legal action. - Report

Monitoring Report 2020/21 of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga has been published.
Main Points: 

• No local authority examined was fully compliant with their commitments regarding websites and interactive services.
• A mixed level of compliance amongst Education & Training Boards was identified regarding statutory obligations under the Official Languages Act.
• An Coimisinéir Teanga has welcomed actions put in place by the Office of Public Works at heritage sites that received an unsatisfactory rating for their signage in last year’s Monitoring Report.
• A report is to be placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas due to a lack of implementation of recommendations from an investigation into Eircode.

The responsibilities on An Coimisinéir Teanga by the Houses of the Oireachtas include the monitoring of the implementation of the Official Languages Act. This aspect of his duties is central to the work the Office carries out as it gives the office holder the opportunity to monitor, off his own bat, the range of duties placed upon public bodies under the Official Languages Act. 

An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill,  said that the Monitoring Report for 2020/2021 highlighted that some local authorities did not engage with his Office during the monitoring process and that he would be reminding them of their statutory obligation to cooperate with him when undertaking his functions.

“Under the Official Languages Act proceedings for an offence can be brought by An Coimisinéir Teanga in the event that the Commissioner is hindered or obstructed in the performance of his or her functions. That particular provision in the Act has never been used since the Office was established but in light of the lack of cooperation from some local authorities, I may have no option except to avail of this significant action soon.”

An Coimisinéir Teanga also expressed disappointment that monitoring work conducted by his Office found that recommendations relating to the use of Gaeltacht place names for the Eircode system were not satisfactorily implemented and that he would be laying a report on this matter before the Houses of the Oireachtas. said he hopes that when a new Language Bill is enacted that he will have the opportunity to monitor other enactments that relate to language matters instead of solely the Official Languages Act.

“With the enactment of a new Bill I should be able to engage in a more allencompassing monitoring process than is allowed at present under the Official Languages Act. This would enable me to monitor the implementation of language legislation that relates to education, broadcasting, planning and transport amongst many other areas”,

• The Monitoring Report can be found here on the Coimisinéir's website.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Language on condition...

"The statutory duty to provide a service in Irish does not depend on the particular situation involved, the priorities or resources of the public body."

The latest official report (Annual Report 2020)  from the Coimisnéir Teanga shows the impact of the coronovirus. Two things stood out. One was the 14% reduction in the number of complaints received in the office, probably a reflection of the lockdowns of different levels throughout the period covered. The second was the number of complaints relating to the pandemic displaying the disrespect or thoughtlessness by central and local arms of government. It certainly shows the urgency required in enacting a strong language act.

One in every five complaints made to Language Commissioner last year were Covid-related. 20% of all complaints raised by An Coimisinéir Teanga with public bodies during 2020 pertained to Covid-19. The majority of these cases concerned various means of communication with the public in English only, including information booklets, websites and advertising. Many of the complaints could not be formally investigated due to a lack of provision for Irish language services in the Official Languages Act, according to An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill.

“The figures released in the annual report highlight that the more urgent and more important the service or information that the State is providing, the less likely it is that information will be provided in Irish. Many complainants who contacted my Office felt Irish speakers were being marginalised by the State at a time when bringing the public together in common purpose was required. The huge challenges facing the State in a time of Covid should not be underestimated but there should be no conflict between the grave national actions underway and obligations regarding language rights.” he said.

Rónán Ó Domhnaill added: “The complaints we received last year demonstrate yet again that the Official Languages Act needs to be strengthened to ensure a greater level of service through Irish from the State. It is hoped that a revised Official Languages Bill will begin to do just that when enacted.”

Four formal investigations were concluded by the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga in 2020, two of which were Covid-related.

An investigation found that the Department of Education breached the Education Act when it decided to provide an online portal to enable students register for calculated grades in the Leaving Cert in English only.

Another investigation found that Galway City Council breached the Official Languages Act when erecting a large number of signs in English only which were in relation to Covid.

A total of 604 complaints were made to the Office last year – a 14% reduction on 2019. 33% of complaints came from Dublin, with a further 23% from Gaeltacht regions.

See also: