A Bill designed to improve the delivery of public services in the Irish language does not adequately address some of the most important issues relating to their provision, An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, has said.
Mr Ó Domhnaill, whose role includes ensuring compliance by public bodies with statutory obligations under language legislation, said the publication of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019 was “an important step” in the process of bringing forth a “stronger and more fit-for-purpose” Act.
The Bill proposes that a fifth of new recruits to the civil service should be able to speak Irish competently. It also proposes a national plan to identify language gaps in the public service and making public bodies recognise the use of the síneadh fada and addresses in Irish.
The Cabinet last week approved the Bill and Mr Ó Domhnaill said there would be opportunities in the weeks ahead “to dissect” any proposed amendments and ensure that weaknesses in the existing legislation are addressed.
“To not do so would be a missed opportunity,” he said. “In the course of this debate it is important that the needs of the language community and their rights continue to be addressed, taking into account the status of Irish as the national and first official language of the country.”
Mr Ó Dómhnaill, who was appointed to his role in March 2014, said he had consistently highlighted the need for three important reforms to strengthen the Official Languages Act.
These are changes to State recruitment policies, the provision of services in Gaeltacht areas and the creation of a language standard that would place a clearer obligation on public bodies to serve the public in Irish.
While the Bill “makes reference” to these matters, Mr Ó Domhnaill said it “does not adequately address some of the most important issues relating to the provision of public services through Irish and protecting the language rights of the community.”
Mr Ó Domhnaill said he was also concerned at the absence of a stated deadline for the publication of the plan “and that there is no statutory obligation to implement any agreed plan”.