Thursday, October 29, 2015

Please Sir, may I renew my driving license?

It is virtually impossible to renew a driving licence using the national language!

I have a simple rule of thumb when dealing with the State and Semi-State bodies. I claim my constitutional right to correspond and interact with them in the National Language. I have done this since the 1960s when I reached my majority.
Thus when the renewal of my road tax, driving licence, dog licence, passport, payment of income tax, moterway tolls and any dealings I have with the State or Local Authority I expect the same treatment as a person using that second official language. That expectation is not always satisfied. Indeed it is often frought with difficulty. I have outlined that latest saga as a diary here (Irish).

Six weeks hassle!
The "Irish" page on RSA
Recently I became aware that there was a new system of renewing driving licences so naturally I tried to find out more about this. I googled "Ceadúnas Tiomána" (Driving Licence) and got the page of the Road Safety Authority. This has as one ought to expect on any Government agency, a button giving a choice of language. I clicked on "Gaeilge" (Irish) but to my dismay it lead me to a page which, although most headings were in Irish the actual content was in English only. After few minutes rooting around I could not find anything that could help me unless I was prepared to convert to using English.

I wrote to the Coimisinéir Teanga, who advised that his office had no jurisdiction over the RSA as it had been set up after the bill setting his office up was enacted (one of many weaknesses in the 2003 Act). Since the website had no address that I could find I then wrote to the Department of Transport. After a few days they wrote back saying that they would contact the RSA and I could expect a response from then within 10 days.

Compulsary English!
I waited but no response so I wrote again, three or four times in the course of six weeks with no response. I then wrote to the Coimisinéir Teanga again advising them of the situation and copying them with the correspondance. They also pointed out that the forms for renewal were on the site on a column on the left hand side and so they were. But they were referred to in English only as "Irish - D401 Full Licence application form". The Medical Report Form in Irish is incorrect too when downloaded. Had they used Irish to identify these forms I might have noticed! They asked if they could copy a contact they had within the RSA and I gave that permission.

This had the desired effect and I was contacted by them. They advised that somebody would contact me and I gave my telephone number.

The Irish client!
I was contacted by telephone then by somebody with an English accent who only spoke English asking if I was the person requiring to renew my licence in Irish. (Remember I have successfully renewed my licence for the last forty years in Irish with no difficulty!). I was flabbergasted and wrote back to the RSA saying it was a perfect example of the marginalisation of Irish by the state talked about by many people from the President down.  As a person who has lived in the Irish Speaking area for the last twelve years I fully understand the statement of the last Coimisinéir Teanga '..the State sector is effectively saying to Gaeltacht communities: “Speak Irish among yourselves, but don’t speak it to us!”*. I then received a telephone call from the person who wrote me earlier who apologised for this and said it shouldn't happen again.

I was then contacted by somebody else and we set up a meeting to do the necessary for renewal. He asked for my mobile number which I gave. And that was that. Hopefully there will be no problems when I get to the registration office.

(In the meantime I received notification from the Dept of Transport, Tourism & Sport advising that my driving licence was due to expire. This was a bilingual communication (in accordance with correct procedure). It advised that I had to make an appointment and that the only way to make an appointment was on-line at However as outlined above this service is only available monolingually!)

But there's more!
I received a text on my phone - from a British phone number and here it is:
Can you get the message? It would appear that the words of a retired civil servant are very true in the attitude of state bodies, "passive inaction on their part now seems to have moved up a notch or two to one of active undermining."*

Maybe the Government should hold a referendum to remove Article 8 of the constitution. Somebody has already put the choices before us succintly: "We have two simple choices – to look back at Irish as our lost language or to move forward with it as a core part of our heritage and sovereignty."*  What do you choose?

But in English!
Had I decided to waive my constitutional rights this operation would have taken a few minutes plus the time travelling to the registration office.

*Address to Oireachtas Committee 23 January 2014

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