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HSE apologises to Irish speakers after complaints that Covid vaccines could only be booked in English

An Coimisinéir Teanga has raised the matter with the health service.

Image: Shutterstock/Brian A Jackson

THE HEALTH SERVICE has apologised to Irish speakers who tried to book an appointment for a Covid-19 vaccine but were not able to do so in their first language.

The office of An Coimisinéir Teanga confirmed it has raised the matter with the HSE after it received a small number of complaints from Irish speakers who had to book their vaccine appointments in English.

The online booking portal is currently only available in English, and some Irish speakers sought to register their appointment over the phone instead so they could use their first language when doing so.

However, complaints were raised after some callers were unable to talk to an Irish-speaking operator when they rang the health service.

In a statement to The Journal, the HSE apologised to those affected, with a spokesperson saying that the health service’s priority when creating the online portal was to have a registration system in place as soon as possible.

They also explained that creating a booking system with multiple languages would have meant that deadlines for the portal to be up and running would not have been met.

“HSELive have a number of Irish speaking agents on the helpline each day,” a spokesperson said.

“We apologise to anyone who wished to register in Irish and did not get an Irish-speaking agent in the past few days, as the call volume in general has been very busy.”

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The spokesperson added that the health service is working to include an option on its recorded phone message service which will allow Irish-speakers to be directed to an Irish-speaking agent.

It comes almost two weeks after An Comisinéir Teanga – who safeguards the language rights of Irish and English speakers in Ireland – raised concerns about the vaccine portal when it opened for those aged 65 to 69.

The commissioner’s office said at the time that enquiries had been made as to whether the HSE was obliged to provide the service in Irish under the Official Languages Act.

A statement added that the State could not prevent individuals from communicating with it in their language of choice, and that the HSE must ensure that the portal could facilitate both Irish and English speakers.

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