Monday, June 27, 2016

Loophole precludes Presidential appointee from resolving problems!

An Coimisinéir Teanga is appointed by the President of Ireland on the advice of the government following a resolution passed by the Houses of the Oireachtas recommending the appointment. The current Coimisinéir Teanga is Rónán Ó Domhnaill appointed by President Michael D O'Higgins in 2014.

The Annual Report of An Coimisinéir Teanga for 2015 shows that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources contravened a statutory language obligation during the rollout of the national postcode system, Eircode. This single issue attracted the highest ever volume of complaints since the establishment of the Office in 2004. 
Click Image to see larger version of Stats Histograms


The largest number of complaints (34.6%) related to the implementation of commitments made by public bodies in statutory language schemes agreed under section 11 of the Act.

There was a decrease from 25.7% to 21.6% in the percentage of the complaints relating to the use of Irish on public bodies’ signage and stationery, in accordance with the Regulations under subsection 9(1) of the Act.

There was a decrease in the percentage of complaints relating to a breach of the provisions of other enactments concerning the status or use of Irish, from 3.8% to 1.5%. 

Of course, complaints relating to the use of Irish on road signs belong by right to this category, but this is generally provided as an independent figure: 8.3% of complaints related to the use of Irish on traffic signs, a small increase on last year’s figure (7.2%). The obligations on roads authorities in respect of road
traffic signage are set out in the Traffic Signs Manual.
Most complaints to the Office related to names, surnames and addresses having been translated to English versions, during the rollout of the Eircodes. This occurred despite the fact that the complainants concerned generally used their name and address only in Irish. An Coimisinéir Teanga held that the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources contravened a statutory obligation regarding Gaeltacht placenames when Eircodes were sent to householders in the Gaeltacht with the addresses in English. 

Stymied by loophole!
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said when publishing the Annual Report today, that “having one’s identity recognised in one’s official language of choice is a fundamental right”. He stated that his Office receives a substantial number of complaints in relation to people’s difficulty in using their name and address in Irish with various state organisations. An Coimisinéir Teanga pointed out that this illustrates the glaring need to amend the legislation in order to protect the use of a person’s name and address in the country’s first official language and that the proposal made by his Office more than five years ago on the matter should be implemented. Due to this loophole in the legislation, An Coimisinéir Teanga was unable to satisfactorily resolve the complaints relating to people’s names and surnames being translated to English when the Eircodes were delivered. 

Serving English speakers only
On a separate matter, An Coimisinéir Teanga referred to the very low number of posts with an Irish language requirement that are being identified by Government Departments. An Coimisinéir Teanga said that, in light of this approach, serious questions arise in relation to the State’s willingness to provide services of the same standard in Irish and in English. He said that action should be taken now to strengthen the Official Languages Act in line with recommendations arising from the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht, from the public consultation process, from presentations made by him to Oireachtas committees on the implementation of the Act, and from the commentary published by the Office on the operation of the Act’s provisions. 

“The increase of 6.5% in the number of complaints and the increase of 79% in the number of advices to public bodies in the last year demonstrates that the language needs of the Irish speaking community in accessing State services need to be properly catered for”, said Rónán Ó Domhnaill.


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