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In the name of the Fada

Síneadh fada in Irish names to be protected by law when dealing with public bodies

The Act will also make titles optional and allow for people to use existing nicknames to differentiate them from others in the local area.

THE SÍNEADH FADA in Irish names will be legally protected when dealing with public bodies under new legislation.

When Sections 4 and 5 of the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021 come into force, titles like Mr and Ms before a person’s name will also become optional when dealing with public bodies, and “local names” or nicknames that “distinguishes them from other individuals bearing the same name in the locality” will be allowed.

The Act covers dealings with all public bodies, including the HSE, county councils, universities and Uisce Éireann.

The official commencement date for the changes has not yet been decided, but it is understood that public bodies will be contacted in the coming weeks with more information.

In 2015, An Coimisinéir Teanga researched the matter during an investigation carried out on the Department of Communications on the rollout of Eircodes.

The investigation centred on the use of official place names but the issue of the use of a ‘síneadh fada’ in a person’s name and address also came to the fore, the commission said.

It found that there was no provision in the Official Languages Act in respect of the right to use one’s name in Irish.

There is a world of difference in meaning between ‘Sean’ and Seán’, for instance, or between Orla and Órla.

“This was the issue on which my Office received the most complaints in its history,” Órla de Burca of the complaints department said.

“Indeed, when I first started receiving complaints on the rollout of Eircode I was prompted to issue a statement to the effect that ‘If a person’s birth certificate is in Irish, and they never use the English version of their names at any stage of their lives – then surely it follows that that is the version that should be used by the State?’

“The síneadh fada in an individual’s name is an integral part of that name – there is a world of difference in meaning between ‘Sean’ and Seán’, for instance, or between Orla and Órla”, she said.

The historic change has been welcomed by republican party Sinn Féin, which said it’s “only taken 101 years”.

Sinn Féin’s spokesperson for Gaeilge Aengus Ó Snodaigh TD said it is “unfortunate” that the party’s proposal to extend the provision to private companies, such as banks and airlines, was rejected. 

“The right to your name is a fundamental one, enshrined in Article 7 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the Irish state should not allow the colonial practice of Irish names being anglicised and declared invalid to continue,” he said.

“Respecting a person’s síneadh fada is a core element of that.”

In 2019, the State data watchdog ruled that Irish people did not have an “absolute right” to have their names spelt correctly, after a complaint was made about medics leaving the fada out of a patient’s name.

The new law runs contrary to the ruling.

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