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Gaeltacht gardai don't have sufficient Irish

BY C.J.MCGINLEY
A REPORT of an investigation (formal inquiry), published on Tuesday in An Coimisinéir Teanga’s Annual Report for 2011, found that the Garda Commissioner failed to comply with the law in this instance with a provision of An Garda Síochána Act 2005.

The Act requires that members of the force stationed in the Gaeltacht should be sufficiently competent in Irish to enable them to use it with ease in carrying out their duties.

A further statutory provision of An Garda Síochána’s language scheme under the Official Languages Act was also breached. The investigation arose from a complaint from a native Irish speaker who was unable to conduct his business through Irish with Gardaí in Gaoth Dobhair in November 24, 2010.

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The Garda on duty, while courteous, explained that he did not have sufficient Irish to be able to conduct business in that language.

The investigation, which commenced in February 2011, was temporarily set aside when Garda authorities increased to three the number of Irish speakers assigned to the station. However, the investigation was recommenced when no further progress was reported and a formal finding of non-compliance was made by An Coimisinéir Teanga in December 2011.

An Coimisinéir Teanga made a series of recommendations to be implemented by the Garda authorities within a nine-month period to ensure full compliance with the statutory requirements.

Speaking at the launch of his Annual Report for 2011, Mr Ó Cuirreáin, said that the status of Irish as a community language in the Gaeltacht was more vulnerable now than at any time in the past and that the State can hardly expect the Irish language to survive as a community language in the Gaeltacht if it continues to force people in those areas to carry out their business with the State through English.

An Coimisinéir Teanga’s Office dealt with 734 new complaints about difficulties with state services in general through Irish during 2011, an increase of 5% on the previous year.

Half of the complaints came from Dublin City and County and a further 21% came from Gaeltacht areas. The vast majority of complaints were resolved informally without resorting to statutory investigations.

An Coimisinéir Teanga also published a special report which he has now laid before both Houses of the Oireachtas. The report relates to the Department of Social Protection which was found to be in breach of statutory language provisions but failed to take corrective action.

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Two separate investigations found that the Department did not comply properly with its statutory language obligations with regard to the awarding of bonus marks for proficiency in Irish and English in specific internal promotion competitions.

The system for the awarding of bonus marks for proficiency in the two languages was established in 1975 to replace the previous system of “compulsory” Irish.

The investigation found that the Department had a statutory duty to award bonus marks for competence in Irish and English to suitably qualified candidates and that the Department was in breach of this provision when it limited the award of the bonus marks to candidates who had progressed to the final stage of promotion competitions.

“The flawed approach adopted by the Department appears to be mirrored across the Civil Service and is clearly partly to blame for the marginalisation of Irish within the workforce in the sector,” according to An Coimisinéir Teanga.

The Department did not appeal An Coimisinéir Teanga’s findings to the High Court on a point of law as permitted by legislation, but, neither did it implement the recommendations of the investigations.

“In reporting this matter to both Houses of the Oireachtas, I have concluded my work on the issue and it now falls to the Oireachtas to take whatever course of action, if any, it deems appropriate in the circumstances” said Mr. Ó Cuirreáin.

In addition to its ombudsman service, the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga also carried out a series of audits of Government departments and other public bodies during 2011 to verify compliance with provisions of language legislation.

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