The Official Languages Act 2003 and the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language
The Official Languages Act was signed into law in the south in 2003. Its aim is to increase the amount of Irish language services available, and to ensure their high standard. The Language Commissioner’s Office was set up to ensure that the Act is complied with.
Conradh na Gaeilge welcomed the Government’s decision, announced Friday, 4 April 2014, not to merge the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga with the Office of the Ombudsman, as had been mooted for over two years. It seems the opinion of the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community finally impressed upon the Government, an opinion voiced strongly as part of the review of the Official Languages Act 2003 and at events such as Lá Mór na Gaeilge in Dublin on 15 February 2014 where over 10,000 people came out in support of the Irish language, and at Slán Le Seán where over 1,000 people took to the roads of Conamara to support Seán Ó Cuirreáin, the former Language Commissioner, on 24 February 2014.
The Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014
The Heads of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 were compiled in the context of the review of the Official Languages Act in 2012.
Following the formation of the new Government in 2016, the Minister of State for Gaeltacht Affairs, Seán Kyne T.D., decided to consider certain elements of the draft Bill and to forward any recommendations arising from that consideration to the Cabinet Committee for the Arts, the Irish Language and the Gaeltacht at the appropriate time. In the event that new heads are required, these will require Government approval.
Conradh na Gaeilge believes that the Government in the south should include the following provisions and more in the Official Languages Bill 2014 if they are indeed serious about strengthening, not weakening, the legislation protecting the basic human rights of the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community:
- New regulations in the Act should guarantee that State services will be provided to the Gaeltacht community through Irish, without condition or question, by the end of 2016 and that those services will be provided at the same standard as they are provided in English elsewhere;
- A new system of standards based on the legislative regulations, such as the Official Languages Act 2003 (Section 9) Regulations 2008, should be developed to replace the system of schemes that has been in place but not functioning as it should for some years;
- The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga (Language Commissioner) should be given a monitoring role in the implementation of the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 – 2030;
- Regulations should provide for a specific amount of people in every public body that will be able to provide services through Irish (not every new employee need have Irish, but a percentage of all staff should be proficient in Irish).
It was obvious from the submissions and surveys completed by the public as part of the process to review the Official Languages Act in 2012 that they wanted the legislation protecting their language rights strengthened, not weakened. No date has been set out in the Heads of Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 to provide all services in Irish to the Gaeltacht community without condition or question, for example. No adequate targets have been set regarding the recruitment of proficient Irish speakers to the public sector. The Office of the Language Commissioner, An Coimisinéir Teanga, has not been given a monitoring role in the implementation of the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 – 2030.
In addition to all the omissions mentioned above, there are provisions in the heads of bill for the Official Languages Act 2014 which would see services in Irish for the public being reduced, such as the recommendation to extend the 3-year term of the language schemes to 7 years. Since its inception, the language scheme system has produced weak schemes with the Government insisting that the schemes would be improved upon every 3 years. The Heads of Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014 recommend extending this time period to 7 years, which in turn would give the various Government departments even more time to evade their Irish-language responsibilities. It would be far better to do away with the system of language schemes and to develop a new system with standards based on the legislative regulations, such as the Official Languages Act 2003 (Section 9) Regulations 2008, or to use the standards system such as the one established in Wales.
Conradh na Gaeilge will be lobbying the Government and the Joint Committee on Environment, Culture and the Gaeltacht vehemently to strengthen, not weaken, the Official Languages Bill 2014. Bí Linn!
The 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 – 2013
The 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 was published on 21 December 2010, following cross-party support in the Houses of the Oireachtas. You can read this strategy in full here.
The specific objectives of the Strategy are to:
- increase the number of people who speak Irish on a daily basis outside the education system from 83,000 to 250,000;
- increase by 25% the number of people who speak Irish on a daily basis in the Gaeltacht; and
- increase the number of people who use State services through Irish and who can access television, radio and print media through the language.
Nine areas of action are set out in the Strategy, namely:
- The Gaeltacht
- Language transmission by the family – early intervention
- Administration, Services and Community
- Media and Technology
- Legislation and Status
- Economic Life
- Cross-cutting Initiatives