Gaeilge to become a full working language of the European Union

More than 700 people will be trained in translating EU documents into Irish over the next five years as the language becomes a full working one for the union.

The move, that will see thousands of pages translated every year, will create around 180 full-time jobs that should pay over €100,000 a year.

The development has been welcomed by Liadh Ní Riada, the Sinn Féin MEP who last year doubled the amount of Irish used in the European Parliament.

The Government turned down the offer to have Irish as a full working language when the country joined in 1973 but in 2004 asked for and was granted a change in policy the following year.

However because there were very few trained Irish language translators available the service was limited to official legislation jointly agreed by the member states ministers and the European Parliament.

Interpretation of the spoken word has been available but only on request with advance notice. Last year Irish ministers did not speak any Irish at their meetings in Brussels. But Ms Ní Riada, a native Irish speaker from West Cork, went on a language strike in the parliament, speaking nothing but Irish for a number of weeks despite the lack of official interpretation. Her assistant filled in translating into English for her for a time.

The situation for the spoken interpretation will not change, but Ms Ní Riada who has been campaigning in the parliament for the language said her battle does not end with the end of the derogation on written translations.

“Although the increase to the budget is minute and the process does not end here, this latest development is most welcome. This has been a key campaign of mine and I will continue this until the Irish language and its speakers in the European Parliament receive the recognition and support it deserves.”

Several of the EU institutions’ websites are in Irish and are updated regularly. From next year an increasing number of official documents will be translated with the aim to have everything available in Irish by 2022.

However, the big problem is to find sufficient translators who in many cases will need specialist knowledge of some of the subjects, especially law. The Department of Education has started targeted courses including at University College Cork and NUI Galway and Kings Inn. The plan is to train 700 people over the next six years in the hope that they will apply and get jobs in the EU institutions.

As well as having their qualifications in translation they will also have to sit and pass the highly competitive examinations set for people wishing to work with the institutions. The advanced Irish skills initiative has trained 243 at a cost of €11m while a project coming up with Irish terms logged in an international language database has cost €1.85m, the Dáil was told last year.

The EU outsources some of its translation needs and this will also offer an opportunity to Irish linguists to work on a freelance basis.

Ms Ní Riada, who has been pushing the EU to have Britain fulfil its commitment to the Irish language in Northern Ireland, last week hosted 16 students from gaelscoileanna in Cork, Kerry, Limerick, and Kilkenny in Brussels where they held a mock parliament session in Irish.

She is also organising a hearing around lesser-used languages with a special focus on Irish in the parliament in June.

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