Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Minster plays fast and loose with the strategy!

It is such a pity that the Irish Times's Miriam Lord is ignorant of the National Language otherwise we might have had an entertaining not to say incisive account of the happenings in Áras an Uachtarán and two oireachtas committees during the week ending 7th March 2014.

On Wednesday two of these happenings occurred.

Thank you!
A delightful reception, hosted by the President of Ireland, Michael D Higgins, in honour of the resigning Language Commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, who had announced a short three months prior to that that he felt he had no option but to resign rather than collude in the pretense of the policy of the Government and Civil Administration.

The President gave a remarkable address (which contrasted markably from any understandable remarks from any Govenment minister) which supported the stand of Seán Ó Cuirreáin. He remarked that he had known Mr Ó Cuirreáin for many years and that he was among the most courteous of men he had ever known. "I would like to pay tribute this evening to Seán’s honesty, his intellectual integrity and to his steadfastness."

Echoing comments made by Seán Ó Cuirreáin to two Oireachtas Committees he said:  “Irish should never be seen as a thorn in the side of the administrative system."

He went on even more strongly “As President of Ireland, I wish to state that, not only am I dismayed, but that I am greatly concerned at the apparent low level of ability to fulfil the rights of citizens who wish to interact through Irish with the State and its agencies."

His address is so strong that at least one commentator wondered if he had crossed a constitutional border in expressing a view so at variance with the perceived policy of the Government. His address (in Irish) may be found here on the website of the President of Ireland.

Machiavellian obfuscation
In stark contrast to events in Áras an Uachtaráin the meeting in Committee Room 4 of the Oireachtas was more like a painful session at the dentist, of pulling obstinate teeth. In the first of two confrontations the Minister of State for the Gaeltacht displayed what might be described either complimentarily as a Machiavellian deviousness, not seen since the hay-day of the Grandfather of the Deputy from West Galway, or less admirably an exercise in lamentable, obdurate obfuscation. The Minster seemed unable to reply to a simple question with a simple answer. Indeed on more than one occasion we were entertained to a trip down memory lane and his own participation in various campaigns in his youth.

He was keen to point out that he was busy making a major contribution to the increased use of Irish in the civil service not seen for forty years. (He did not, nor did any one else, refer to the fact that the ills which caused up to 10,000 to march in Dublin, and 1000 in Conamara last month were in fact the direct result of a decision by a Fine Gael Minister of Finance in 1974!)

When people tried to pin him down on any particular problem raised by the Commissioner he maintained that he himself had no responsibility except for his own Department.

Mr Michael Kitt said the number of complaints to the Irish language commissioner was increasing, the complaints coming from across the State with 26% were from within the Gaeltacht.

The Minister told him it was “a good thing that complaints are coming in from the public because it shows the demand for Irish speakers”. However he did not say how these complaints could be satisfied.

The amalgamation of the Commisioner's office with that of the Ombudsman would mean that his Department would no longer be responsible for these reports but they would pass to the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform.

When rights are not rights!
When asked whether language rights were human rights he seemed to maintain that these rights depended on the availability of funds. I suppose we could quote, mutas mutandis the author of Animal Farm, "Some rights are more equal than others!"

In the Dáil the following morning the claim was made, and not denied, that the rate of approval of Language Schemes, (Legally binding schemes submitted by Departments and public bodies advising what they were doing to implement Irish Language policy), would mean that twenty eight years would have come and gone before every body had submitted schemes.

On Thursday a second Oireachtas Committee had summoned the Minister. In fact only the Chairman, Sen Labhrás Ó Murchú, of this committee bothered to turn up though other Deptuties and Senators did. The members who missed the show - er sorry session - were An Teachta Micheál Mac Carthaigh, An Teachta Caoimhín Mac Unfraidh, An Teachta Peadar Tóibín, An Seanadóir Fiach Mac Conghaíl and An Seanadóir Cáit Uí Chátháin.

This was a meeting to examine progress on the famous 20 year Strategy about which the resigning Commissioner said, "Is the Strategy being implemented?  I don’t know.  And with all due respect to you as a subcommittee, I believe that you don’t know either as there is no independent audit or review being conducted on the implementation of the Strategy." The committee was a lesson in how to demolish a witness as Éamon Ó Cuív and Trevor Ó Clochartaigh with little assistance from Senator Briain Ó Domhnaill, examined how the 20 Year Strategy was not been implemented at all either in and how the government in effect has altered the all-party agreed document.

Government alters strategy without telling anyone!
The Minister of State again re-iterated that he had enough to be doing looking after his own Department than to be looking after what other Departments were doing. This outlook was in direct contrast to the impression that the questionnaires understanding of the Minister's responsibility with regard to the Strategy. Indeed even in his own Department, a Strategic Unit as mentioned in the Strategy, is not in place - a deep cause for concern for those in attendance. This was in direct contravention of the strategy "Planning and implementation of the Strategy will be directed from a Strategy Unit within that Department (of the Gaeltacht), with dedicated staff and the function of assigning duties and implementation roles to implementation agencies, as necessary."

Particular attention was drawn to the fact that there was no senior minister with responsibility as required by the document, "..a senior Minister and a Government Department (the Department of Community, Equality and Gaeltacht Affairs) with central responsibility for Irish language affairs.)" 

By the time the meeting ended there was nothing said that belied the feeling that the Government’s treatment of the Irish language was a deep deep cause for concern for all those who questioned the Minister.

A report on this meeting in the Irish Times: Leaked document shows reversal of Irish language obligations. (6/3/2014)

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