Tuesday, April 4, 2017

"Direct agents for the spreading and establishment of English!" #Coimisnéir

An important comprehensive study was issued overnight by the Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, an office filled by appointment of the President of Ireland, on the operation of a fundamental part of the Official Languages Act 2003. Up to now while people felt that things were not going to plan there was little other than anecdotal evidence. Now with this commentary, A Commentary on the Language Scheme System, we have firm proven and provable evidence as to just how they are working - or not - and why. We have included the Coimisinéir's own press release at the bottom of this piece.

He starts his report setting the scene "The Statement on the Irish Language published by the Government of Ireland in 2006 states that the Official Languages Act would be used 'to achieve a significant improvement on a phased basis, over a period, in the level of services through Irish provided by the State.' That objective was reaffirmed in the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language when it referred to 'the right of the public to use Irish in dealings with the State' and sought to 'increase the number of people that use State services through the Irish language'”.

It was pointed out by the previous Commissioner, before he resigned on principle, that he really had no idea how the 20 Year Strategy was working and suggested that the members of the Oireachtas were in the same position. He pointed that he was unaware if anyone was measuring its impact. "What gets measured gets done!" he said (Oireachtas Reports 23 Jan 2014).  This aphorism was repeated by the present encumbent almost exactly one year later (Oireachtas Reports, 14 Jan 2015). So here at last we have a measurement - something more than just an anecdote, a feeling. This is a serious document.

The most startling lines for this reader are found on on pages 28 and 29. Here they are:
"As far back as 1926 the Commission for the Gaeltacht recognised the negative effect being exerted on the use of Irish in the Gaeltacht by public servants without Irish and the functioning of public services through the medium of English.

In order fully to understand it, one has only to visualise a Gárda Síochána barracks of English Speaking Gárdaí in the centre of an Irish Speaking district; or a Post Office, in which no one speaks Irish, in an Irish Speaking village; or a non-Irish Speaking official of the Department of Agriculture, or of the Land Commission, or of the Customs and Excise, operating amongst an Irish Speaking population. These officials are direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English. 
Coimisiún na Gaeltachta (1926)

"The Commission at that time attested to the necessity for Irish as the normal default language between the State and its executives and the people of the Gaeltacht, as well as for ensuring that public servants working in the Gaeltacht should be fluent in Irish. More than ninety years later neither those recommendations, nor their equivalent, have been implemented. (my emphasis)

"Service through the medium of Irish should be actively offered, and Gaeltacht customers should be made aware that they are welcome to use Irish in their dealings with the public body concerned. It must be remembered that there are strong, long-established English communication norms between Gaeltacht communities and various State organisations. Customers, who feel disadvantaged, lack confidence and who feel obliged to the organisation for whatever necessary assistance they receive, would be unlikely to demand service in their own language of choice if they felt that would inconvenience people. That is not to say that they would not choose to use Irish were that choice available and presented to customers in an effective manner."

As the Commisioner said in another place about this long established practise (Gaeltacht residents interacting with state organisations), "Bíodh is go bhfuil muid imithe i dtaithí ar an gcur chuige sin ní shin le rá go bhfuil sé ceart." (Trans: Because we are used to this way of doing things is not the same as saying it is the ideal!) Speech in Irish in Rosmuc 18 Sept 2015.

As the report states "the statutory Guidelines comply with the principle" of providing this choice to people but the practice remains leading to the unavoidable conclusion that today the state are still "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English." (Is it not interesting to put this statement, philosophy, in the context of the 1893 address by Dr.Douglas Hyde which was so important for the struggle for independence?)

Gaeilge ar-líne
"I hope it will be considered!"
For instance how many of us remember when any of these organisations told us that they welcome interaction in what is after all "The National Language." (Bunracht na hÉireann Alt 8). In this writer's experience only two entities do this on twitter, Uisce Éireann (Irish Water) and  Cáin Mhótair Ar Líne (Motor Taxation On-Line). (I'm open to correction but ESB Networks, NCT, An Post, Traffic, etc are exclusively English language). Even the National Legislative assemblies of Seanad and Dáil Éireann rarely tweet anything in the National Language. The European Parliament is far more frequent (almost daily) in using our language. Uachtarán na hÉireann does tweet regularly in Irish (albeit incomprehensibly under the heading @presidentIRL).  The Taoiseach never tweets in Irish! And the political parties with the exception of the Greens & Sinn Féin are intermittant tweeters in Irish (though the latter is like the major parties - FG, FF, Lab - is lamentable in it recognition of Irish on their websites.)

The Coimisinéir's forward ends as follows: "I relayed my concerns regarding the deficiencies in the language scheme system to the Standing Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, most recently on 4 October 2016. That Oireachtas committee requested that I submit proposals to it about ways in which public service provision through the medium of Irish could be administered more effectively. In Part II of this commentary, I propose an alternative approach in relation to some of the subjects being discussed under the language scheme system and other related matters which would, in my estimation, add considerably to the effectiveness of the legislation."

I have some confidence in the work being carried out by this committee under the effective chairmanship of Catherine Connelly T.D. and hope that this document will help them in their work and that, more importantly, using the words on the Coimisinéir Teanga, "Tá súil agam go dtabharfar aird orthu," which loses some of its flavour in the translation, "I hope it will be considered!"

The report is surely very important and merits careful study by all involved in serving our citizens in their choice of language as was recommended as far back as 1926 - ninety years ago.  

Is it too much to hope that the State will cease to be "direct agents in the spreading and establishment of English?"

The press statement from the Office of the Coimisinéir Teanga.

“The system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established.” An Coimisinéir Teanga An analysis carried out by An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, on the system of language schemes demonstrated that, at the end of last year, seven requests for the preparation of a language scheme were outstanding for a period in excess of nine years. In a commentary on the operation of the Official Languages Act by An Coimisinéir Teanga, it was also reported that no Gaeltacht minister to date has reported any public body’s failure to prepare or agree a language scheme, although the Minister has the power to do so under the Official Languages Act. As part of this analysis an audit was carried out of every language scheme that was confirmed in 2015 and 2016. This audit demonstrates:
  • That retrograde steps were taken in more than half of the schemes that were agreed and were supposed to increase the services available in Irish
  • That posts with an Irish language requirement were identified in less than one language scheme in five
  • That commitments made in schemes, that were the subject of an investigation by An Coimisinéir Teanga, were set aside or reduced in two out of every three schemes subsequently confirmed
Among the recommendations made by An Coimisinéir Teanga are:
  • A new recruitment policy that would ensure a minimum necessary level of staff with competence in Irish
  • Common standards with regard to services in Irish that would not be based on the system of language schemes
  • To forge a connection between language planning and language rights by ensuring that State employees working in or serving the Gaeltacht, are fluent in Irish
An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said, “it is clear that the system of language schemes has failed to achieve its goal. This goal, to increase and improve Sate services available through the Irish language, will not be achieved unless a new system is established. I have recommended an alternative approach in this commentary; I hope it will be considered.”