Saturday, January 14, 2012

Independence of Coimisinéir Teanga strongly supported!

“Office of the Irish Language Commissioner must retain its independence” declare speakers at Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012

Review of the Official Languages Act
The Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht proposes to draft its first Irish language Scheme in accordance with Section 11 of the Official Languages Act 2003. The primary objective of the Act is to ensure better availability and a higher standard of public services through Irish.

The Department now wishes to invite representations in relation to the preparation of the Scheme from interested parties. Written submissions, preferably in electronic format, should be forwarded by email to Alternatively, they may be posted to 
Seán Coleman, Corporate Development, Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht, New Road, Killarney, Co Kerry.
At Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012, which took place in Dublin today organised by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, national and international experts were agreed for the successful implementation of the Official Languages Act, it is critical the Office of the Language Commissioner retain its independence and not be merged with any other state department or agency.

‘Fortifying the Status of the Irish Language’ was the theme of Tóstal na Gaeilge this year, and the international speakers Professor Colin Williams (Wales), Dr. Wilson McLeod (Scotland) and Professor François Grin (Switzerland) emphasised the importance of the independence of the Office of the Language Commissioner to enhance the status of the language under the Language Act, and said that the public could not have confidence in such an office it were not completely independent.

Among those who spoke during An Tóstal were, Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, and Séamus Mac Giolla Chomhail, Principle Officer with the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, as well as academic experts in the areas of language planning and sociolinguistics, and local language activists.

Speaker after speaker throughout the day commented that the lack of progression in ratifying and implementing new schemes under the current system is a demonstration of both a reluctance within Public Bodies to fully implement schemes, and of the failure of the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to effectively manage the current system, and that these issues must be addressed as a matter of urgency.

During An Tóstal it was proposed to examine the possibility of an alternative system to that of the current language schemes. The proposed new system would see certain Public Bodies categorised under the Act to provide services in Irish to the same standard as those provided in English. It was recommended that the Office of the Language Commission would have a central role under the new system in both influencing current practices within Public Bodies, and in administering sanctions where Public Bodies fail to conform to their regulatory duties.

In support of the recommendations made to date by the Language Commissioner, the experts speaking at An Tóstal recognised the current crisis within the public service with such a low number of staff able to proficiently provide services in both official languages of the State. It was agreed that it is necessary to put a recruitment process in place which recognises the advantage of proficiency in both English and Irish, which will ensure a higher number of employees in Public Bodies under the Act will be able to deal with the public through Irish in the future.

The recommendations made during Tóstal na Gaeilge will be included in the submission by Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge to the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht. A summary of those recommendations will be published on, the Irish language news and information website, as a guide to the public as they complete the Department’s survey, or prepare submissions as part of the current consultation process.

Speaking at Tóstal na Gaeilge 2012, President of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Pádraig Mac Fhearghusa said “the sheer number of people who attended Tóstal na Gaeilge this year reflects the interest and understanding which the public has in the review of the Official Languags Act 2003”. Mac Fhearghusa urges the public do “take action by completing the Deparment’s survey online before the deadline at the end of the month”.

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