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Why SHOULD Irish get full EU support? Not enough of us speak it.

Translating documents is a waste of time and money considering the amount of people who choose to actually work through Irish.

Aaron McKenna

SINN FEIN MEP Liadh Ní Riada went on an Irish language strike this week in Brussels, protesting the lack of accommodation made in the EU despite Irish becoming an official language in 2007. There has been a derogation in place allowing EU institutions to skimp on support for the language, one of 24 in use throughout the Union.

Ní Riada pointed out how saddened she was that she couldn’t conduct her official EU business in Irish, and proposed that if the derogation was lifted there would be 188 jobs created for Irish translators and interpreters in Brussels “at no great cost to the European Union”.

That’s a lot of roles created to ensure that 11 MEPs and other officials can do their work through Irish, particularly considering the amount of official business that is conducted as Gaeilge in Ireland as it stands.

The EU is great at wasting time and cash

We regularly lambast the EU for wasting money. Be it regulating olive oil jugs in restaurants or dispensing grant aid to projects that go nowhere or do nothing of any sense, the EU is great at wasting time and cash. Ní Riada seems to be of the opinion that if the EU is going to blow loads of money on other things, it should blow some on the Irish language.

Firstly, to cost: 188 is a lot of jobs, and the EU doesn’t pay fast food wages. The starting salary for a translator in the EU is €61,000 a year when you count in the 16% they get on top of their wages for living abroad to work in Brussels. Being civil servants, these wages go up over time on a pre-determined sliding scale and there’s a pension at the end of it.

There’s social insurance and other tax contributions paid by the EU, as well as relocation packages, allowances for spouses and children who move with the worker, and special EU schools for the kids to go to. There will be senior folks on higher wages to manage the coterie and they’ll all need office space and all that goes with it.

It is not difficult to see the price tag of this Irish language service rising to about €20 million a year, which is presumably what Ní Riada thinks of as “no great cost.”

What are the access rates for documents translated to Irish?

We have some experience of this cost at home, where the State shells out millions every year to have everything from legislation to government publications, pamphlets and other miscellaneous items translated to Irish. State agencies and public bodies are obliged to translate English versions of certain documents into Irish under a 2003 Official Languages Act. Public policy proposals, annual reports, financial statements and so on from Quangoland all need to go into Irish.

The results are rarely published, but access rates for documents translated to Irish are believed to be quite low. Clare County Council spent €30,000 to translate their county development plan to Irish some years back, and despite being in an area with a substantial number of Irish speakers there was not one request for the publication in Irish. There were 190 English editions of the plan purchased.

Here at home we’ve spent €12 million to train 243 Irish language graduates to translate EU legislation into Irish before it is put before the Oireachtas, where most EU legislation is waved through without more than perfunctory discussion. Even when the Oireachtas gets around to debating legislation at length, you can count on one hand the number of times in an entire five year session when a sizeable number of parliamentarians debate legislation through Irish. Usually the language is relegated to opening statements in important speeches and the odd tittle tattle at Leaders Questions; or when a handful of Deputies show up to discuss a Gaeltacht matter.

The Irish language industry is almost an entirely state-funded cottage enterprise that maintains its position through cultural nationalistic blackmail. There, I’ve said it.

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An unnecessary expense

I’ve argued before that we need to make a conscious decision to either go full-native or drop the pretence in relation to Irish. We spend 14 years learning the language in school but only an infinitesimal minority speak it regularly. Those that do speak it regularly also speak English. The suggestion that we create another 188 jobs in Brussels to support a language that, and I cannot stress this enough, practically nobody uses in an official capacity is sheer stupidity.

We are arguing that Irish should be put on the same level as French or Swedish or Portuguese in the EU, with all the support that goes with it? The difference is, of course, that the majority of the people in these countries will read an official document in their native language. In Ireland, the majority – if not all people – can and will read it in English, at no additional cost to EU taxpayers.

We know full well that translating documents at home is a waste of time and money for the amount of people who choose to work through Irish. Foisting another 188 translators on Brussels is sheer civil service make work that we would be screaming about if it was anything else as blatantly useless.

If we ever do turn around and become a nation of Irish speakers, similar to the Dutch who have high English fluency whilst maintaining their language day to day, we can foist as many speakers as we need to on the EU. As it stands today, this is just the old racket trying to land a few jobs abroad. It’s a waste of money that could be better spent on quite a variety of better things.

Aaron McKenna is a businessman and a columnist for TheJournal.ie. He is also involved in activism in his local area. You can find out more at aaronmckenna.com or follow him on Twitter @aaronmckenna. To read more columns by Aaron click here.

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