Monday, November 5, 2012

The President, the bureaucracy and the language!

" I find it shocking the ease with which authoritarianism emerges and the expressions of authoritarianism….." Michael D Higgins, President of Ireland

In a recent interview the President of Ireland made the following comments:

The President of Ireland
Dúbhghlás de hÍde 1938-1945
Michael D Higgins 2011-
"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."

Hostile Policies
Fine Gael/Labour Coalition Governments have an unenviable reputation when it comes to the Irish Language and its recognition in state affairs.
The Cosgrave administration abolished the requirement for proficiency in the language among Civil Servants.

The current administration regards Gaeltacht Affairs as a matter of culture of Arts rather than as a matter of Community as the previous administration - however inneffective we might think it - did.
They abolished the requirement for the publishing of legislation bilingually.
They also abolished the direct democratic elections of Údarás na Gaeltacht.

They succeeded in breaking the cross party unanimity on the Gaeltacht and Language, after almost ninety years.
Other policies of this Government such as the closing down of rural schools and Garda Stations have had a disproportionate effect on the fabric of Gaeltacht Communities.

Most Irish Taoiseach?
The further delicious irony is that the current Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, uses more Irish in the Dáil than any Taoiseach on all aspects of policy (not only Irish or Gaeltacht matters) prompted by Gerry Adams, the leader of the junior opposition party!
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 Presidency
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!

1 comment:

  1. I believe that successive Governments are actually trying to kill the Irish language. If they came out openly and said it they would be condemned!

    Bit by bit they ensure that there is no scope for using the language and that its value is diminished in every sense.

    Party people dominate most of the language movement and 'Civil Society' organisations and effectively ensure that no progress is made towards restoration of Irish as the first language. There is acceptance of a 'dying language' scenario ... they act accordingly.

    But many so called Gaelgóirí are happy to sit in positions of influence, take the status and often the gravy train that goes with it, but do NOTHING!

    As de hÍde outlined... we need Irish, in a material and practical sense! It is not just down to sentiment alone, of which there is plenty.

    We need national recovery, this needs national consciousness and revival - such is IMPOSSIBLE while we turn our backs on the most significant badge of our nationality - Irish. How can we have national revival, and thus create independent self-serving economic and social policy, without embracing our own culture and value systems fully?

    Adoption of the Irish language as the first language, in practice, WILL liberate Ireland.

    This change will only happen when the vested interests who rule OVER us are removed.

    We Irish people must empower ourselves and assert our own national interests and decide the policy of our own state.