Saturday, November 19, 2011

Developing language policy by hunch!

It is hard to see a real love of the Irish heritage in the actions taken by the current government and epecially in the majority party.
Opened by a President closed by Fine Gael?
"The "Free State" never had any intention to revive the native language. They always needed to cloy to English norms, without which, they would be dumb and blind. Those who were given power by the English, were totally "cleansed" of any trace of our traditions and culture. They are irrelevent and what ever they do is irrelevent. We must press on without them. Beidh lá breá gréine in Éirinn lá. Labhair Gaeilge! Droch rath ar na 'Léinte Gorma'" .

This is a comment typical of many which have appeared in the last few days following the shoch announcememnt of the planned watering-down, if not the total abolition of the Language Commissioner's office.

A paper by Dúbhglás de hÍde, 1st President of Ireland "The necessity for the de-anglicising the Irish nation!" instigated the birth of the nation. Are we now smothering that same nation through thoughtless hunches?
Fine Gael has form!
Earlier this year the Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuireáin in a report described the ending nearly 40 years ago of the requirement for civil servants to have competence in Irish as well as English, when addressing a conference in Dublin last February.

This decision was taken by a Fine Gael Minister of Finance and in fact a lot of the so-called costs of translations etc would harldy be neccessary if this dicision had not been taken as there would be sufficient personnal "in house" to handle the business in both languages. He cites as an example that the "Department of Education and Skills, which recently revealed that only 1.5% of its administrative staff had sufficient competence in Irish to be able to provide service in that language." This in a Department that to a large extent was entrusted with the "revival of the Irish language" at the foundation of the state.

 Enda Kenny himself commented on a report from the Education Department in 2006: "'s pretty ironic that the Department of Education, which has been dealing with the teaching of Irish for more than 80 years, was not in a position to translate this report itself and had to contract an outside company to get the document translated." (23 June 2006). Is it possible that Richie Ryan's decision some forty years previously had an influence?

Fine Gael's Richie Ryan statement as he announced this change proclaimed that this decision will lead "replacing the compulsion which did so much damage to the Irish language over the past half century with enthusiasm for the language, we will have people more readily disposed to use Irish.” Another hunch?

Mr Ryan, where are these people?

Mantaining the "murder machine!"
P. H. Pearse, President of the Provisional Government in 1916 referred to the education system here as the "Murder Machine." It is not so long ago since the leader of Fine Gael, now Taoiseach Enda Kenny, promoted the abolition of Irish as a neccessary subject in our Leaving Certificate examination. He was approached last year on his policy to eject Irish from the core curriculum at Leaving Certificate level. When asked to explain how the survival prospects of an imperilled language could be improved by lowering its social status, he replied that his policy for Irish in the schools is based on a personal 'hunch.' (Letter to newspapers 8 Feb 2011)

Fine Gael is not alone!
This notion of change be "hunch" or without adequate, or indeed any, clear notion as to why an action should be taken is demonstrated in a recent article from the pen of Irish Times columnist Fintan O'Toole, a journalist with whose opinions this writer does not always agree. He asks: "Want to hear about a daft idea that deserves to be shelved?"
His vision for Irish is perhaps laudable. "My vision for Irish in our education system is simple: I believe we should equip our people, and particularly our young people, with a real, a useful, and a communicative knowledge of the Irish Language." His 'personal hunch' however leads him to state, "All students will be offered a choice as to whether to study Irish after the Junior Certificate examination."

Language planning by intuition!
And now in what appears to be a continuation of their Irish Language policy by "hunch," they have announced the intention, as part of the "Public Service Reform" announced by the Government, to "merge" the office of the Language Commissioner with that of the Ombudsan. In a statement Seán Ó Cuireáin confirmed that he had not been consulted on the decision and was informed by telephone on Wednesday night. This is breathtaking not only displaying a lack of courtesy but also a lack of evidence of any real considerationof the impact of such a decision - another hunch?

The wording in the policy states "Merge functions of Language Commissioner with Ombudsman Office." This appears as a decision. Then this rider is added, "To be progressed in the context of the ongoing review of the Official Languages Act 2003" In other words it is removing the examination of the independance of the Language Commissioner's office from the review of the Act. It ties the hands of the review. Why?

The ostensible reason for this decision was to save money. "The need to reduce public spending and drive greater efficiency is clearly evident and has been committed to. We will relentlessly focus on delivering better value for money through the implementation of Public Service Reform."

Let's examine the costs. According to the Junior Minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, Dinny McGinley, the cost for this office is €600,000 per annum. The bulk of this cost is salaries and rental of the premises in the Gaeltacht. The staff of the office are civil servents and the plan states that no personell will loose their jobs. The Commissioner himself has been appointed by the President for a term which expires in 2016. The rent for the premises is being paid to another State agency, Údarás na Gaeltachta. It is not unreasonable to assume that any additional costs are the cost of the work accomplished through the office in serving the public. Mr Kenny says there will be no reduction in the standard and efficiency of the office under the new regime. Minister Howlin echoes this in relation to the total programme, "These measures are designed to make service delivery more effective and efficient!"

Could it be that this is another hunch?

Mr Kenny, where is the saving?

Are they alone?
The other parties have little to be proud of either.
Sinn Féin, whom one might think would be full of practical love of their language presided over the closing down of the only Irish Language daily newspaper.
Fianna Fáil did little to change the hostile legislation of Richie Ryan when they returned to power. Yes while they were in power the did eventually pass a language act 71 years after they came to power. Indeed there are those that feel that even this would not have happened but for the dedication and sheer nerve of Éamon Ó Cuív.
The Labour Party have hardly covered themselves in glory in the over 80 years since the foundation of the state. Michael D Higgins' steadfastness in the face of relentless criticism resulted in the foundation of the now much praised TG4.

Is it any wonder that the people of the Gaeltacht and the language are totally disillusioned?

The Irish people require leadership in restoring its self respect as a nation. Seán Ó Cuireáin in some small way was helping in that. Not all people thought that his office was as useful as it could be or indeed that some of the aspects of the Language Act itself were that useful but it was all we had and it was subject to review. Will that review be realistic, honest, scientific or will all the changes if any be based on a hunch?

The prospect is terrifying!

• Incidentally in compiling this piece we found that all the Irish Language sites had complete English Language versions. None of the  Government Sites we looked at had! Need we say more!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Government undermines language act!

The Government has announced today that it intends to close the Office of the Language Commissioner (An Coimisinéir Teanga) as an independent statutory office, and to transfer its functions to the Office of the Ombudsman as part of its public sector reform plan.

See also: and Irish Rights Are Civil Rights! from the blog of Séamus Ó Sionnach.
Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, says: "This announcement from the Government that it will close the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga as an independent statutory office is by far the most retrogressive decision taken by any Government with regard to the promotion of the Irish language in many, many years. The folly of this decision is even greater compounded by the fact that the same Government only 14 days ago announced a public consultation as part of a review of the Official Languages Act which includes, as a central part of the review, the role and functions of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga. Is there any point in the public taking part in this consultation if the decisions have already been made?
"It should be made clear that since the appointment and reappointment lately of Seán Ó Cuirreáin as Coimisinéir Teanga, his office has made huge strides in monitoring compliance by public bodies with the provisions of the Official Languages Act, they have investigated breeches of the Act reported to them by the public, and they have provided extremely good advice to the public regarding their language rights under the Official Languages Act. The Irish language community believes and trusts in the independence of the Office, and this is now to be put in jeopardy by the Government."

Éamonn Mac Niallais, Spokesperson for Guth na Gaeltachta, says: "It is amazing that such a decision has been taken at the very beginning of the implementation of the Government's 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 - 2030. This decision makes absolutely no sense at all, and the Irish language community will now be very sceptical that this Government in any way serious about strategically planning for the Irish language community. What message does this give the Civil Service, a service Irish speakers have been trying to access their rights from for years now? What this is saying to them is that this independent office is not important and as such, that it is not important to implement the Languages Act. 
"There are no savings to be made. No-one will lose their jobs. If anything, there will be greater expense to the exchequer if they attempt to move the current staff to the Ombudsman's Office in Dublin. When An Bord Snip looked at this issue, even they recommended to leave the Office as it is. Therefore there are some questions to be asked. Who made this recommendation? What defence was made of the Language Commissioner's Office within the Department itself, considering there is no logic to the decision on the grounds of financial savings? How does the Government and the Civil Service view the rights of Irish speakers in Ireland?"

Conradh na Gaeilge and Guth na Gaeltachta are calling on the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste, who both have a huge interest in the Irish language and community themselves, to reverse this decision and to support the good and effective independent work of the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga.

The following statement issued from Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, the central steering council for the Irish language community.

Functions of the Language Commissioner to be merged with the Office of the Ombudsman
– Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge expresses its disappointment

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge today expressed its disappointment with the Government’s decision to merge the functions of the Language Commissioner with the Office of the Ombudsman. 

The Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform announced today that the functions of the Language Commissioner are to be merged with the Office of the Ombudsman under a public sector reform programme as part of the measures to streamline the operation of independent State bodies or ‘quangoes’.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin was officially appointed Language Commissioner on the 23 Feabhra 2004 according to the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003. 

While carrying out the functions of that office since then he has always displayed a wise, practical, measured and sensible attitude and approach.  The direct result of this can be clearly seen in the improvement in the level and standard of services through Irish provided to the public by the Public Bodies under the Act. 

During his keynote address at Tóstal na Gaeilge 2004, which he delivered shortly after his appointment, Mr. Ó Cuirreáin emphasised in particular the importance of the independence of the office of the Language Commissioner.

He indicated that it was his aim that the office of the Language Commissioner be a resource for the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities in relation to realizing their language rights under the Official Languages Act 2003.  This aim has been achieved and is being achieved on a daily basis in the fulfilment of his duties as Language Commissioner.  

Mr. Ó Cuirreáin was reappointed for a further period of 6 years on the 23 February 2010.

Speaking about the Government’s decision announced today, the Director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Pádraig Mac Criostail said that “a review of the Official languages Act 2003 was announced very recently by the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht.  It makes little sense while that review process is ongoing to announce this decision in relation to the Office of the Language Commissioner which will greatly impair the independent operation of that office, not to mention the negative effect this decision may have on the overall implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003.  While the motivation behind this decision is undoubtedly the reduction in State costs, it is unclear what direct savings will be achieved as a result.”

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge is seeking an urgent meeting with the Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to discuss the implications of this decision as well as other decisions that will impact the promotion of the Irish language.

Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge is the central steering council for the Irish language community. Its role is to act as a coordinating body for voluntary Irish language organisations.