In a recent interview the President of Ireland made the following comments:
"I think that one needs to address….institutional inadequacy. How is a legislative proposal initiated and where does it come from? How is it processed and is it processed with participation? How is it administered? I’ve seen advocacy groups work for 20 years on getting as far as a piece of legislation but then the implementation of the legislation is frustrated by a whole set of bureaucratic blocks.
"And there is a very serious bureaucratic problem in this country…a very serious problem of hierarchy. It’s very fine to ask public servants to be flexible but there is a hierarchical structure there. There are still many elements of patriarchy and what I think is extraordinary to me at this stage of my life looking back on it after nearly a half a century as a sociologist, I find it shocking the ease with which authoritarianism emerges and the expressions of authoritarianism…..I spoke about it recently to a very senior person, about where people are almost waiting for their authoritarian moment…(in the bureaucracy)
"Yes, oh yes. In many cases therefore it is sometimes quite difficult to be original, to be flexible, to be very human. It is nearly impossible to be vulnerable. Because the culture of never being caught with a mistake just completely stymies real development.
"When a country is recovering, and I think it is, from what it has been plunged into by a false model of a speculative economy, you find people are very flexible and innovative and creative. And also people value the warmth of relationships. I find that again in relation to groups I’ve visited, receptions I’ve had here....."
Language and bureaucracy!
A very good example, and there are dozens, perhaps hundreds, of this, not to put too fine a point on it, obfuscation, is the management of Government policy on the Irish Language.
Take last Thursday's confirmation by the Government of Minister Brendan Howlin's decision in November 2011 to amalgamate the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga with that of the Ombudsman. This document (issued in English only at the time) excited strong and hostile comment and, as far as I can see, no favourable comment.
The press release from the Department that handles Gaeltacht affairs, (downgraded itself by this Government from a community department to a culture and arts department) purports to clarify the matter.
But does it?
This is what it says:
"An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner): The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to be merged with the Office of the Ombudsman. A statutorily appointed Coimisinéir Teanga, based in the Gaeltacht, will continue to independently exercise existing powers under the Official Languages Act."
Later on it "clarifies" what this means in practice in a note for editors:
"An Coimisinéir Teanga (Irish Language Commissioner)
• The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga is to merge with the Office of the Ombudsman.
• The statutory powers and functions of An Coimisinéir Teanga under the Official Languages Act 2003 will transfer to the Ombudsman and will be delegated to An Coimisinéir Teanga under the amending legislation.
• An Coimisinéir Teanga will continue to be statutorily appointed and exercise independent powers under the Official Languages Act 2003 and will also continue to be based in the Gaeltacht."
Who was consulted!
Is this not a downgrading of the office of Coimisinéir Teanga? Or does it enhance the office as the Minister of State has mantained since. Does it reflect the "comprehensive consultation" that the Minister of State's superior mantains has been engaged in since the Howlin Document was issued? It is interesting that nobody has come forward, not least the two offices involved, confirming that they were involved in this "comprehensive consultation!" Above all does it save money or the amount of bureaucracy (and therefore cost) involved in the work of this important, although perhaps fairly weak office.
A slight independance?
Let's look at the office itself.
It is an Office of State and the Coimisinéir is appointed directly by the President of Ireland of Ireland (as is the Ombudsman). This appointment is by the President on the advice of the government following a resolution passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas recommending the appointment. (Dáil,Seanaid and Úactharán). The role and functions of the Coimisnéir Teanga, limited as they are, are clearly laid out on the Office internet site.
The new arrangement as outlined in the Department release appears to remove the direct connection with the President and the Oireachtas, and possibly the direct communication with the Minister for Gaeltacht Affairs. Instead the offices Coimisinéir will be delegated by the Ombusdman who will be the "de jure" Comisinéir Teanga. If he is delegated (and this is the word used in the release) of the Ombudsman then "ipso facto" we have an extra bureaucratic layer to the office.
The direct responsibility and access is gone and the extra works (and presumably expense) in becoming, in effect, a sub-office of the Ombudsman will further increase the work and the delay in the expedition of his reports and God alone knows how effective they would be in encouragement action.
The Coimisinéir will "continue to be statutorily appointed" says this release. What does this mean? Will the President appoint the Comisinéir while the Ombudsman gives the office its powers? What is the sense, logic or indeed implications of this not only to the Office of Coimisinéir Teanga but to the Office of the President itself? Indeed an unfortunate irony for an office first occupied by a man whose short paper "The necessity for de-anglicising the Irish nation!" can justly be seen as what revivified the Irish people at the end of the nineteenth century and the ideals of which appear to be at best forgotten and at worst actively opposed by the administrative bureaucracy in Ireland!