Monday, June 17, 2013

The right thing to do!

Last May an important and indeed unique international gathering took place in Dublin which appears, as far as I can see, to have been completely ignored by the English Language media in Ireland, with the possible exception of RTÉ's on-line news service (surprisingly monolingual for the  "national" broadcaster.) With the withdrawal of funds at short notice to the newspaper and internet news service, Gaelscéal, the Irish language print media has been effectively emasculated!

This was a the first gathering of the world's language commissioners, The International Conference of Language Rights.   The daddy of them all is Canada's Graham Fraser, who occupies the pioneering office of Commissioner of Official Languages, the first such office in the world. The event was organised by our own Commissioner of 10 years, Seán Ó Cuirreáin.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin, (partly hidden) introduces the President to the recently appointed Sandra Inutiq, Nunavut Commissioner.
The event was opened at Áras an Uachtarán by President Michael D Higgins himself. In a strong twenty minute extempore address the President said that rights are denied when people are discouraged from speaking a language or when a language is allowed to become subordinate in usage.

The speechs and presentations by representatives of linguistic diversity in areas as distinct as Canada, Kosova, Finnland, Catalonia, the Inuit regions of North America and South Africa who shared their experience were shared with an equally diverse group of international delegates. The sometimes controversial nature of the work of a Language Commissioner was thrown into sharp relief when the contribution of the Catalonian Ombudsman, Rafael Ribo, was flatly contradicted by a representative of the Spanish Embassy.

A comment by Ireland's Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreán, in his presentation also was echoed by other presentors.  He described the perception, indeed it appeard to be his own perception too, of the attitude of the Irish state bureaucracy: ""Labhraigí Gaeilge le chéile ach nár labhair linne í! (Speak Irish to each other but don't speak it to us!)" Though the Junior Irish Minister, charged with responsibility in this area, Dinny McGinley, did make an appearence briefly at the meeting, his absence for the bulk of the event perhaps told us more about the attitude of the Government than a thousand words.

A very full and accurate report on the event has been published, International Conference on Language Rights, Dublin, May 24, 2013, by the distinguished Swiss based cosmopolitan, Daphne Romy-Masliah, writer and commentator on Multiculturalism, Plurilingualism and waht she calls Cosmopolitanism. The presentations themselves may be found here on the Comisnéir Teanga's website. The talks are in the language used by the speaker. The official languages of the conference were Irish & English and a translation service was provided.

A striking sentence made during the day strongly echoed those of the President. "We are talking not only about rights here but about the right thing to do!"

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Revenue Language Scheme: "Setting goals containing work already complete is simply dishonest”

The new language scheme for the Office of the Revenue Commissioners under the Official Languages Act 2003 comes into effect today, 04 June 2013. When the Official Languages Act was first introduced in 2003, the language schemes, which are agreed by public bodies and set out their commitments towards Irish language services, were seen as an integral part of the legislation.

Ironic question in view of latest
Revenue Commissioners' Scheme!
Umbrella body for the Irish language voluntary sector, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, has expressed concern in the past about how these schemes have been agreed, effected and implemented, and the latest scheme by the Office of the Revenue Commissioner does little to quell their concern.

In April of this year, Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge highlighted the second language scheme of the Department of Education and Skills and demonstrated that not only did the scheme fail to build on the first scheme, but in fact it revoked many of the original commitments.

Like the language scheme of the Department of Education and Skills, the first scheme by the Office of the Revenue Commissioners expired in 2008, and it has taken five years for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to ratify the successive scheme.

Also similarly to the language scheme of the Department of Education and Skills, an emerging over-arching reluctance across state services towards the implementation of the Official Languages Act is displayed in the new scheme with phrases such as “subject to resources being available” and “as resources permit” appearing after many commitments.

Excuses, escape clauses and caveats are all too common in the latest scheme. In relation to the Revenue website, it is stated that: “Where content is not available in Irish, a link to the English content will be provided, together with an appropriate explanation to the customer. This link will indicate that the destination page will be in English only”. No elaboration is made as to what “appropriate explanation” might entail, or as to how a user of the site could possibly understand what parts of the site are to be made available in Irish and what parts will be available in English only.

The second scheme commits again to the provision of 20% of pressreleases to be delivered simultaneously in Irish and English on the Revenue website, and a commitment is declared to ensure at least one Irish language advertisement will be deployed for every ten English language advertisements published in any Revenue campaign.

Thirty specific publications are listed in the second scheme, with the goal of having all 30 publications available bilingually by 2016.

Director of Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge, Kevin De Barra, claims the scheme lacks integrity and says “the scheme contradicts the essence of the Official Languages Act 2003. The new scheme contains so many caveats and conditions, that the power of the Coimisinéir Teanga, to ensure compliance, has now been diminished. A goal of 30 specific publications has been set for 2016, of which 80% are currently available to the public. Setting goals containing work already complete is simply dishonest”.