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Wednesday, November 24, 2004
By Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent
THE Irish language is set to become the 21st official language of the EU, employing 110 translators at an annual cost of about €10 million.
The move was welcomed by Ireland west MEP Seán Ó Neachtain, the only native Irish speaker in the European Parliament of 732 deputies.
Discussions are due to begin on the details today in Brussels and it is expected that the other member states will give the go-ahead inside the next few months.
It will mean jobs for 110 translators fluent in the language, who can earn up to €85,000 a year interpreting speakers in the parliament and translating all decisions made in the EU into Irish.
There are 20 official languages employing 3,000 people translating about two billion pages a year at a cost of €1 billion, or about €2 per citizen annually.
The Government decided to look for the language to be recognised at EU level last June after Mr Ó Neachtain and Sinn Féin made it one of their aims during the elections to the European Parliament.
"I welcome this move and will be delighted to be able to speak my own native language in the parliament in the future," said Mr Ó Neachtain.
When Ireland joined the EU in 1973, the Government turned down the option of having Irish as an official language but agreed to have it used as a treaty language.
As a result, all EU treaties, including the new European Constitution, have been translated into Irish.
The change will also mean that European citizens may contact the EU institutions using Irish and expect a reply in the language.
There are an estimated 260,000 fluent Irish speakers in the country, with about 40,000 who use it as their first language. There are also three dialects, Connacht, Ulster and Munster.
The Catalans have been pushing for some time to have their language, used on a daily basis by an estimated 70% of their 7 million population, but so far Spain is reluctant to pursue this.
Following enlargement of the EU from 15 to 25 members last May, the number of official languages increased from 11 to 20. However, finding sufficient interpreters and translators has proven difficult. Maltese is still without its complement of translators while a shortage in other languages is delaying publication of documents.
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