Call to hire more Irish speakers for State sector
ANNE LUCEY – Irish Times - Mon, Nov 29, 2010
LANGUAGE COMMISSIONER Seán Ó Cuirreáin has called for “positive discrimination” in recruitment to the public service to tackle the fall in State workers able to deal with the public through Irish, one of the two official languages of the State.
A new survey within the Department of Education and Skills has found only 1.5 per cent of officials can deal with the public through Irish, a situation the commissioner described as “a scandal”.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin was speaking at Tralee’s Institute of Technology, where research on the Official Languages Act (2003), which aims to improve public service through Irish, found low levels of fluent Irish speakers across most public service organizations.
The Language Commissioner – an independent office akin to an ombudsman – said the figure of 1.5 per cent of administrative staff able to provide services through Irish amounted to a halving since 2005 when 3 per cent of staff were able to use Irish. “This means that 98.5 per cent of staff members were unable to deal with the public through Irish. This fall in the department’s Irish language capacity has happened at a time when the national language is, in general, undergoing an undoubted resurgence in popularity,” Mr Ó Cuirreáin said. “This is a scandal.”
It was “futile” to have all the emphasis and resources of the State placed on acquiring and protecting the language if those with Irish could not then use it within the State sector, he said.
There was strong official recognition of the language, he said. It was mentioned in 140 Acts, some €700 million a year was spent teaching it, there were State-funded Irish radio and television stations but there was no practical application. Students spent 13 years and 1,000 hours learning Irish but there was no opportunity to use it, he said. “We have failed utterly to link learning Irish with using the language,” he said.
Irish was rarely used in the Dáil, where all the political party leaders had Irish “but seldom use it,” he said. Irish was not among the top 10 languages used in the courts and was well-behind Polish, French, Russian and Chinese Mandarin, the commissioner detailed.
English was “the default setting” because Irish speakers believed they would get a better service through English.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin said recruitment into the public service would begin again within the lifetime of the new 20-year strategy planned for the Irish language and he urged a model of “positive discrimination” be used. “I am not in any way making a case for a return to compulsory Irish for employees of the State, but neither do I believe it is acceptable compulsory English is forced on the public in their dealings with the State,” he said.
While official status was demanded for the language in Europe, it was being eroded at home, he said.
Tir gan teanga, Tir gan anam! Gaeilge go deo!
Sean ‘Og O’Miadhachainn