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Investigation finds only 1 of 9 officers in Gaeltacht Garda station spoke Irish

Eight of the nine Gardaí stationed in Gaoth Dobhair in Donegal were unable to carry out their duties through Irish.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

ALL BUT ONE of the Gardaí stationed in a Garda station in a Gaeltacht area of Co Donegal were unable to conduct their duties through the Irish language, a new report has revealed.

Eight of the nine Gardaí station at Gaoth Dobhair did not have sufficient Irish to engage with members of the public who wished to conduct their business through Irish when investigated in 2010 and 2011.

The disclosure is made in the 2011 annual report of An Coimisinéir Teanga, the Irish Language Commissioner who is tasked with ensuring public bodies comply with the provisions of the Official Languages Act.

The report outlines how the Commissioner was asked to investigate a complaint made by a native Irish speaker who visited the station on 24 November 2010, and was told that the Garda on duty did not have sufficient Irish to conduct his business that way.

When the Commissioner’s office investigated later, it discovered that only one of the nine members assigned to the station “could carry out his duties with ease through Irish. A formal investigation ensued at that stage.”

The investigation resulted in Gardaí making staffing reassignments so that three officers could conduct business through Irish by April 2011, at which point the investigation was relaxed in order to allow the force to implement a plan which would ultimately see all Gardaí in the station being able to conduct their business as Gaeilge.

When little progress was made by that summer, however, the investigation was revived – while the original complainant had experienced the same difficulties as before “several times” in the meantime.

Though an Garda Síochána said all nine of the Gardaí stationed in the station at An Bun Beag/Doirí Beaga had passed the oral Irish exam at their training in Templemore, the Commissioner said this was not a sufficient response as this had been the case before the complaint had arisen.

The report said:

There is a huge difference between that level of language ability and the standard required by subsection 33(2) of the [Garda Síochána] Act: that members be sufficiently competent in the Irish language to enable them to use it with facility in carrying out their duties.

The force had therefore been in breach of that Act, as well as the Official Languages Act, because Gardaí without the appropriate fluency in Irish were assigned to Gaeltacht stations after that Act came into effect in May 2009.

The Commissioner recommended that the Garda Commissioner take all necessary steps to ensure that Gardaí stationed in An Bun Beag be fluent in Irish, and that this be implemented as soon as possible and within a maximum of nine months.

The investigation found no fault with the individual Gardaí concerned, who were not at fault for the decision to assign them to An Bun Beag. The investigation also noted that 100 per cent of the Gardaí serving the Connemara region were fluent in Irish.

Separately, the Commissioner’s annual report outlines two separate instances in which the Department of Social Protection had not complied with its obligations to award bonuses marks to applicants for promotion who were proficient in Irish.

This system had been introduced in the mid-1970s, before which it was “compulsory” for applicants to have proficiency in Irish.

In each case the Department had proposed only to award bonus marks after candidates were progressed to ‘final stage’, by which time each of the two candidates, who were applying for separate positions, had been eliminated.

Read: Irish language community slam merger of Language Commissioner

Poll: Do you speak Irish on a regular basis?

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Gavan Reilly

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