Thursday, November 7, 2013

Functional bilinguals required!

'Go dtabharfaidh an tAire Caiteachas Poiblí, míniú ar cén bhunús taighde nó sochtheangeolaíoch atá leis an gcinneadh atá glactha ag an Rialtas maidir le cumas na Gaeilge ó thaobh earcaíocht sa Státseirbhís a athrú agus cén chaoi a dtacaíonn sé seo leis an Straitéis Fiche Bliain don Ghaeilge a chuir chun cinn?' (Our translation: That the Minister for Public Expenditure outline the basis in research or sociolinguistic theory for the Government's decision to change the criteria in relation to proficiency in the Irish language for recruitment into the public and civil service and how this supports the Governments 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language?) 

This a question put by Seanadóir Trevor Ó Clochartaigh on Wednesday 6th November seeking, from the Minister for Public Expendiature, clarification or an explanation of the decision made by the Government the previous week as mentioned in our blog, Now we know the state of play!

See the notice of the question on the Business of Seanad for the day (Second Notice). See also link to debate at bottom of page!

The Minister responded in a written reply entirely in English, and not very careful English at that. He switches between first and third person in his statement. The fact that he responds to a question posted in Irish in one of the Houses of the Oireachtas  says far more than anything else the attitude of this Government to our language and those who wish to exercise their right to use it in their own country. Indeed it is an insult, calculated, not only to Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh but also to the Seanad itself and to the historic Irish nation!

He refers, somewhat disingenuously, to the fact that the previous system was "not, in practice, achieving its policy objective," and "demonstrably didn't achieve the required policy outcome!" He does not refer to the fact that the system as originally envisaged was never fully complied with. A report on this was laid before the Oireachtas during 2011. Details of laying this report appears at the bottom of this page.

The relevant Oireachtas committee has not reported on their own deliberations on this matter so the Government's decision pre-empts the Oireachtas. Hardly a sign of respect for the houses of the Oireachtas from the administration.

This is the unadulterated text of the Minister's response:

Irish Language Proficiency in the Civil Service
6th November 2013
Adjournment Debate

The policy of awarding bonus marks for Irish language proficiency in civil service competitions was introduced following the abolition of compulsory Irish in the 1970s. (See our blog "Richie Ryan decision made language marginal" 4/2/2011). In developing pragmatic policies in support of Irish language proficiency to replace the existing legacy policy, I was guided by a public policy imperative to develop a coherent set of measures that support service delivery through Irish, in the 21st century.

The Minister!
In formulating the new policy the Minister (sic) was conscious that the bonus marks scheme was not, in practice, achieving its policy objective. The uptake of the scheme was low and those awarded bonus marks were not being utilised to provide services through Irish.

The Minister's focus since taking office is about driving change and reform across the public service to make it high performing and more "fit for purpose". In this context, we are rolling out more strategic workforce planning policies to ensure that the right peopole, are in the right place, to deliver effective policy initiatives and to support efficient service delivery.

Within this overarching policy, Irish language proficiency policy for the civil service has been refocused to provide more meaningful and effective services through Irish. The Departments (sic) Implementation Plan for the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-30 includes measures aimed at building capacity in the provision of Irish language services in the civil service. The workforce planning process will be amended to require Government Departments and Offices to identify posts and areas of work requiring functional bilinguals. (underlined in original!)

We have now given practical effect to the commitments in the measures to support Irish language proficiency in the civil service that was unveiled last week. The policy includes provision for a sub-panel of functional bilinguals equal to 6% of the main panel for future recruitment and, where appropriate, promotion competitions. Successful candidates from the main competition panel will be tested on a basis of a rigorous written and oral Irish test and must be able to provide a full range of services to customers - and internally within Departments - in Irish and must be designated for that purpose for a period of time.

We will pilot this approach in upcoming EO competition to access demand for functional bilinguals across Departments. If demand exists it will be applied to future competitions.

The shift from the policy of awarding bonus marks for Irish in competitions - that demonstrably didn't achieve the required policy outcome - to an approach that puts in place a panel of functional bilinguals for deployment across the system - is designed to renew and strengthen Irish language proficiency across the civil service. We see scope for greater linkages between the Irish language schemes and strategic workforce planning so as to ensure that Departments clearly identify the need if any. In tandem with the functional bilingual policy I believe there is an ongoing need for an Irish language training and proficiency assessment regime for existing civil servants. The service level agreement between my Department and the Department of Arts Heritage and the Gaeltacht supports capacity building and provides a practical mechanism to support Irish language training services and proficiency testing.

In conclusion, resourcing policy for the Irish language must have a greater competency-based focus. I believe the new measures that have been in place represent a very real improvement and go a long way towards achieving this outcome. The legacy policy was not providing service delivery in Irish and it was time for change - the measures achieved last week are the first step to a more realistic and coherent policy in this area.

The policy is intended to meet our stated commitment under the 20 Year Strategy and to create a supply of functional bilinguals for deployment across the civil service, over the medium to longer term.

1. Extract from release on his annual report for 2011, issued by Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the Coimisinéir Teanga on 24 April 2012.
"The report relates to the Department of Social Protection which was found to be in breach of statutory language provisions but failed to take corrective action. Two separate investigations found that the Department did not comply properly with its statutory language obligations with regard to the awarding of bonus marks for proficiency in Irish and English in specific
internal promotion competitions.

The system for the awarding of bonus marks for proficiency in the two languages was established in 1975 to replace the previous system of “compulsory” Irish. The investigation found that the Department had a statutory duty to award bonus marks for competence in Irish and English to suitably qualified candidates and that the Department was in breach of this provision when it limited the award of the bonus marks to candidates who had progressed to the final stage of promotion competitions. “The flawed approach adopted by the Department appears to be mirrored across the Civil Service and is clearly partly to blame for the marginalisation of Irish within the workforce in the sector,” according to An Coimisinéir Teanga.

The Department did not appeal An Coimisinéir Teanga’s findings to the High Court on a point of law as permitted by legislation, but, neither did it implement the recommendations of the investigations. “In reporting this matter to both Houses of the Oireachtas, I have concluded my work on the issue and it now falls to the Oireachtas to take whatever course of action, if any, it deems appropriate in the circumstances” said Mr. Ó Cuirreáin."

2. There was further clarification on the actual evening that the matter was read. The Minister himself did not attend but Junior Minister Hayes did submit responses including reading this document into the record of the debate under the heading: Irish Language Issues 6/11/2013)

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