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: 

Monday, April 26, 2021

"Our hearts are broken!"


A report regarding the low number of Irish-speaking Gardaí in the Gaeltacht has been submitted to the Houses of the Oireachtas by An Coimisinéir Teanga.

It was decided to lay a Report before both Houses of the Oireachtas as the recommendations of an investigation carried out in 2011 had not been implemented by An Garda Síochána and An Coimisinéir Teanga was unable to undertake any additional measures to impress upon An Garda Síochána to do so.

‘It is now very clear that the investigation’s recommendations have not been implemented by An Garda Síochána. The number of Irish-speaking Gardaí who are on duty in the Gaeltacht is inadequate and as a result the Garda Síochána Act is being breached. It would be difficult to argue that a reasonable period of time has not elapsed since recommendations were made in a 2011 investigation. It now falls to the Houses of the Oireachtas to take whatever additional measures they deem appropriate.’ said Rónán Ó Domhnaill, Coimisinéir Teanga. In an interview this morning he stated that "their hearts were broken" trying to get the Garda Síochána to fulfill their legal obligation. 

The Commissioner of An Garda Síochána is under a statutory obligation to ensure that members of the force who are fluent in Irish are stationed in a district that includes a Gaeltacht area, as far as practicable. The law clearly states:  ‘The Garda Commissioner shall, to the extent practicable, ensure that members of the Garda Síochána stationed in a district that includes a Gaeltacht area are sufficiently competent in the Irish language to enable them to use it with facility in carrying out their duties.’  (Subsection 33(2) of the Garda Síochána Act 2005).

The investigation, which was completed in December 2011, found that An Garda Síochána did not comply with its statutory language obligations to station members of the force who are sufficiently proficient in Irish in the Donegal Gaeltacht.

A specific recommendation was made in the 2011 investigation that An Garda Síochána should examine staffing throughout the Gaeltacht to ensure compliance with the statutory language obligations pertaining to An Garda Síochána in the Garda Síochána Act 2005 and An Garda Síochána’s Language Scheme 2009-2012.

As a result of a monitoring process, it was ascertained that only 35 Irish-speaking Gardaí, out of a total of 95, are assigned to Gaeltacht stations. This is according to An Garda Síochána’s own self-assessment system.

@gardainfo @ceartateanga @OireachtasNews @DeptJusticeIRL

Friday, April 16, 2021

From Kilkenny to Dún na nGall.

"...if any English, or Irish living amongst the English, use the Irish language amongst themselves, cont-rary to the ordinance, and therof be attainted, his lands and tenements, if he have any, shall be seized into the hands of his immediate lord, until he shall come to one of the places of our lord the king, and find sufficient surety to adopt and use the English language, and then he shall have restitution of his said lands or tenements, his body shall be taken by any of the officers of our lord the king, and commited to the next gaol, there to remain until he, or some other in his name, shall find sufficient surety in the manner aforesaid..." 
Statutes of Kilkenny A.D. 1367

What a week for the Irish speaker!

1. Vaccination registration impossible for Irish speakers;
2. Circulars distributed to Naoinra's in English from the department of Children with the instruction to distribute it to parents;
3. Circulars issued in English only from the Department of the Gaeltacht;
4. Plans for rural rejuvination available in English only weeks after they were announced.
5. A Chinese Academic's application for citizenship rejected because it was submitted in Irish.
6. A circular issued by a company in Gaeltacht to its employees, sponsored by Udarás na Gaeltachta, stating that English is the only acceptable language in the workplace (since withdrawn);

No Gaeilge - No Gaeltacht!

And they are the only ones I can think of ... indeed, as was mentioned by one tweeter, the only department which seems ready to speak in Irish is that of the Revenue Commissioners. I wonder why?

And all this in the week when discussions are being held in the Dáil to strengthen and protect the language. And all but a few of the over 300 amendments being rejected by the Government.

One wonders how this is possible when the Taoiseach (@MichealMartinTD) belongs to a party (@fiannafailparty) with claims as one of its primary aims is "to restore the Irish Language as the spoken language of the people." One would imagine that the first step would be to ensure that the state would be able to serve those who use the language in their daily life especially the people of the Gaeltacht areas. How many Fianna Fáil TD and Senators use the National Language on twitter. I could count on one hand the number of tweets made by our Taoiseach.

Arguably the European Parliament (@Europarl_GA) makes more tweets in Irish per week than the Oireachtas (@OireachtasNews). Indeed Uachtarán na hÉireann offers an example that all arms of Government could follow - although it is a bit of a mystery as to how his twitter handle is @PresidentIRL.

One is tempted to ask (as indeed are many on twitter) against what - is the Irish State the greatest enemy of the Language that it is charged not only to protect but to encourage.

A reminder the Bunracht na hÉireann states (Article 8 #1)

Since the Irish language is the national language it is the first official language.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

A first in fifty years...

"...until we have it again on our tongues and in our minds we are not free.." (Michael Collins).

Something happened to me last week that has never happened before. A representative of the State initiated a conversation with me in Irish.

I was travelling to our local chemist in Ceathrú Rua and there was a Garda Checkpoint on the road. We were stopped and before we could say anything the cheerful Garda greeted us "Agus cé chaoi bhfuil sibh ar maidin?" I explained my errand and we went on our way. As I drove I felt strangely uplifted, even joyful.


Well I have been dealing with the state for over fifty years and always the first approach is a sort of confrontation. If I start in Irish there are various blank stares if it is in person and they go looking for "the person with Irish." Or on the phone "The person with Irish is not here..." or "...on her tea break!" In fact up to now if I have been stopped by a Garda on the road in the course of their duty they have always initiated the proceedings in English even in the Gaeltacht. Sometimes refusal to respond in English has resulted in frogmarching to the station. This attitude has lead unsurprisingly to the interaction between the state and those whose daily language is Irish, such as those who live in Gaeltacht Areas, to be in English with the inevitable and frequent claim by the civil service "There is no demand for it!"

I have even been told on more than one occasion by an employee of the State, the constitution of which states that Irish is the first official language, that I would get a better and more efficient service if I dealt with them in English. 

There have been some conversations recently discussing this on twitter and the on-line publication NÓS (Irish).  Indeed when somebody is served in Irish it is the occasion for some happy sharings on social media. This tells its own story. I have yet to see somebody rejoicing in the ability of any state service to provide a service through English.  

Hopefull the wrangling currently in progress in Leinster House as the new ten year delayed Language Bill will manage to sort out this particular problem. However looking at the Government's rejection of almost all of the recommendations of both the Coimisinéir Teanga and the Oireachtas Committee on the Irish Language, Gaeltacht and the Irish-speaking Community (Irish) not to mention those of Linguistic experts, language bodies and the ordinary Seán and Siobhán Citizen.

The Government - all Governments of whatever hue say they favour the advancement of the National Language. Ring up any Government and discover just how they have done in the 99 odd years of the State. The great Michael Collins said shortly before he died, "...the biggest task will be the restoration of the language. How can we express our most subtle thoughts and finest feelings in a foreign tongue? 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, and we will produce no immortal literature...."

The milk-watery efforts or indeed subtle hostility of some of his successors have in no small way contributed to the current situation.

I have quoted a Nigerian poet, John Ekwere, in this regard before and his words mutas mutandis perhaps reflect the situation.

    "Now no more the palefaced strangers
    With unhallowed feet
    The heritage of our fathers profane;

    Now no missioned benevolent despots
    Bull-doze an unwilling race;

    Now no more the foreign hawks
    On alien chickens prey -
    but we on us."

See also: National archive reveals shocking state cynicism! (4/9/2013)

Monday, October 12, 2020

Will 2030 be postponed as 1928 was?

Perusing the English language media this last week you might be forgiven for not knowing the the Government introduced the Official Languages bill in the Dáil on Thursday. This bill, promised for the past ten, if not more, years, is supposed to be the natural progression of the 2003 Act which established the Coimisinéir Teanga and various regulations to promote the use of Irish what after all is the National Language particularly in the public sector. 

Was that act a success? 

Judge for yourself. Note particularly that the first Coimisinéir, the much respected Seán Ó Cuirreáin, 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. He went on (in translation) to observe: "I fear that the exercise (Government's intentions in a long delayed new Language Act) will be seen as a fudge, a farce or a falsehood."

While the new bill does address some of the issues mentioned by Seán Ó Cuirreáin and his successor and many organisations and private citizens they are understandibly doubtful of the bona fides of the Government in bringing this bill forward. This is of course based on bitter experience from the actions of every Government of the state since 1928. 

Catherine Martin (Aire Gaeltachta 2020) Risteárd Ua Maolcatha, Aire Rialtas Áitiúil 1928) & Jack Chambers (Aire Stáit Ghaeltachta 2020)

Research, which possibly led to the aforementioned resignation, shows that "the Irish language policy of the Irish state from 1928 has been little more than an excercise in cynicism, deception and long fingering!" During that year the then Minister of Local Government & Health, Risteárd Ua Maolchatha, introduced Legal Instrument (No 23 0f 1928) which specified that any local or health authority employee with duties in the Gaeltacht (Irish speaking area) be given three years to learn sufficient Irish to be able to perform their duties in the local language. If they failed to do this they were to be let go. 

These provisions were never implemented. 

As a target date approached a new instrument was signed which postponed it for a further six or twelve months. In fact during the years between 1928 and 1966 this happened FIFTY FOUR (54) times. 

In 1974 the then Government enacted legislation which abolished the requirement of proficiency in the National Language for applicants to appointments in the civil service. The Taoiseach of the day fully understood what this would mean and wrote:  "..that the abolition of the requirement might cause some difficulties in regard to the Constitutional position of Irish as the first official language of the State and might lead to a situation where few civil servants would be able to conduct business in Irish with those members of the public who would wish and would be entitled to do so..." 

Oh how true!

The new act states that a fifth of new recruits to the civil service will have to be proficient in Irish from 2030 (IT). However there is a clause which allows the Minister to extend that date. One wonders how frequently will this be done. Fifty four times? It is little wonder the the General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, Julian de Spáinn wearily says in todays Irish Times (Irish)  - "It is time for the Government parties to adhere and fulfill their promises (before the election)!"

One sign of hope was the number of speakers who addressed the introduction of the bill on Thursday. Twenty two deputies spoke over a period of several hours in a civilised, intelligent and useful debate. All parties and independent groups with the notable, and noted, exception of Fine Gael, the successor party of that which introduced the 1928 act. And the party whose minister removed the Irish language requirement in the civil service with the words, "...there will be no weakening of Irish in the civil service and there will be a greater desire to use it because of the ending of compulsion..."