The repeated failure by the Government to allocate adequate resources for the promotion and protection of the Irish language as well as the lack of implementation of state obligations led to the resignation of the Irish Language Commissioner (an Coimisinéir Teanga) in February 2014 after ten years in office.1 The role of the Irish Language Commissioner was established in 2004 to provide advice to the public on their Irish language rights, to provide advice to public bodies on their obligations under the legislation and to act as a redress mechanism. By 2014 it had received more than 6000 complaints and instigated 96 formal investigations.2
Under Article 8 of the Irish Constitution, the Irish language is recognised as the first official language of the State and the language rights of Irish-speakers has been upheld in a number of cases by the Irish Courts.3 The Official Languages Act 2003 also recognises certain language rights including the right of Irish speakers to access key documents in Irish, interact with public bodies in Irish and use Irish in any dealings with the courts. In 2011, some 77,185 people - representing 1.8 per cent of the population over the age of three - spoke Irish on a daily basis outside of the education system.4 This figure increases to 25 per cent in the seven designated Gaeltacht5 (Irish-speaking) regions.6
Since 2008, the Office of the Irish Language Commissioner has suffered a cut of 45 per cent to its budget. A proposal by the Government in the 2011 Public Service Reform Plan7 caused the Irish Language Commissioner to express concerns ‘about the future viability of the Office’ in such an arrangement.8 The overall budget allocated to the Irish language, Gaeltacht and Islands was reduced by five per cent to less than €40 million in 2014.9
A 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language was published in 2010 but a progress report highlighted the ‘resource constraints within which the Strategy is being implemented’ and the significant reduction in funding since the plan’s establishment.10 A review of the Official Languages Act 2003 ‘to ensure expenditure on the language is best targeted towards the development of the language and that obligations are imposed appropriately in response to demand from citizens’ took place in 2011 resulting in the publication of draft revised legislation in 2014.11 Concerns have been expressed by Irish language rights advocates that the proposed changes will result in a roll-back on the State’s obligations to provide equality for Irish language speakers accessing public services under the original legislation based on the additional cost to the Exchequer.12 Further concerns for the Government’s commitment to recognise and protect Irish language rights were raised following the appointment of a non-fluent Irish speaker as Minister for the Gaeltacht in July 2014.13
Despite a commitment in the 2011 Programme for Government to promote its recognition,14 Irish Sign Language (ISL), the indigenous language used by the Deaf community in Ireland, is still not officially recognised.15 There are an estimated 40,000 ISL daily users of which 5000 are Deaf people who have difficulty in accessing public services and information on their rights and entitlements.16 Despite the clear recognition of native signed languages in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Ireland has not yet ratified, proposed legislation17 to officially recognise ISL was rejected by the Seanad (Senate) in January 2014. The Minister for State clarified that the Government did ‘not want to see scarce resources, particularly at this time of extremely scarce resources, used without the service being put in place’.18 Coupled with a complete funding cut to the IDS Deaf Advocacy Service in 2014, which was later reversed as a temporary measure,19 it is not clear how the State intends to progress this important issue and ensure the rights of the Deaf Community are protected and respected.
FLAC urges the Committee to recommend that the State:
Adequately resource the Irish Language Commissioner’s office.
Ensure Irish speakers can avail of their constitutional and statutory rights to access services in the Irish language.
Legislate to officially recognise Irish Sign Language.
1 An Coimisinéir Teanga (2014) Annual Report 2013, An Spidéal: An Coimisinéir Teanga.
2 An Coimisinéir Teanga (2014) Annual Report 2013, An Spidéal: An Coimisinéir Teanga, p.11.
4 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 9 – What We Know, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.27.
5 These were defined by the Gaeltacht Areas Orders 1956-1982 and include areas in the counties of Cork, Donegal, Galway, Kerry, Meath, Mayo and Waterford.
6 Government of Ireland (2012) Census 2011 Profile 9 – What We Know, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.31.
7 Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (2011) Government Statement Public Sector Reform Plan, Dublin: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.
8 An Coimisinéir Teanga (2014) Annual Report 2013, An Spidéal: An Coimisinéir Teanga, p.7.
9 Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht, ‘Dinny McGinley TD, Minister of State at the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht welcomed the proposed allocation for the Irish language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands functions of the Department for 2014’ [press release], 15 October 2013.
10 Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht (2013) Progress Report on the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030, Dublin: DAHG, p.1.
11 Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2014.
12 Conradh na Gaeilge, ‘Language Act Urgently Needs Much Amending’, [press release], 28 May 2014.
14 Government of Ireland (2011) Programme for Government 2011-2016, Dublin: Stationery Office, p.24.
15 Irish Deaf Society, ‘Irish Sign Language Recognition: Information Leaflet’, Dublin: IDS.
16 Irish Deaf Society, ‘Irish Sign Language Recognition: Information Leaflet’, Dublin: IDS.
17 Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2013.
18 Kathleen Lynch TD, Minister of State with responsibility for Disability, Older People, Equality & Mental Health, Seanad Debates: Recognition of Irish Sign Language for the Deaf Community Bill 2013 – Second Stage, 22 January 2014.
19 Irish Deaf Society, ‘Irish Sign Language Awareness Week: ‘Strengthening Human Diversity’, [press release], 11 September 2014.
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