THE LANGUAGE COMMISSIONER has described 2012 as “not a vintage year” in terms of the promotion of Irish in the public sector.
During the 12 months, 756 complaints were made by people finding it difficult to access State services through Irish. The Commissioner said that was the largest number ever received by the office.
An absence of staff with competence in both official languages is seen as the main restriction to the statutory delivery of services through Irish.
Thirteen formal investigations by Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin’s office led to findings of breaches of the language legislation in various government departments and county councils, the National Transport Authority, the Central Bank, the HSE and An Garda Síochána.
One of the complaints investigated by the office last year saw a young man arrested after the tried to engage the Garda through Irish. He had been stopped in relation to a road traffic matter but found himself in handcuffs at a local station until somebody who could speak Irish was found.
The complainant said he felt threatened and nervous during the hour-long ordeal.
…shamed and insulted and I was told several times that I did not have a right to conduct business through Irish, that I should desist and that I would not have been arrested if I hadn’t spoken in Irish.
Ó Cuirreáin said Gardaí failed in this case to comply with a statutory commitment which recognises the right of the public to conduct business with the force through Irish or English.
“Speaking Irish isn’t a crime,” he told RTÉ News at One. The Commissioner also noted a Garda attitude that placed “using Irish” and “dealing with foreign nationals” in the same space. He was also “struck” by the fact that trained gardaí had such an insufficient command of the language that they could not ask a driver, “Cad is ainm duit?” or seek his address.
Some moves have been made to implement the Office’s recommendations on foot of the investigation into the matter to avoid repeat incidents.
“This involves promoting language awareness and training as well a s the development of new practices and a protocol in this area,” continued Ó Cuirreáin.
RTÉ also reported that a laminated list of basic Irish phrases will be issued to every member of the force. Meanwhile, a language awareness programme is being developed.
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