Only half of all gardaí stationed in Gaeltacht areas have a relatively good command of the Irish language.
Figures provided by An Garda Síochána show just more than 50% of all members based in Gaeltacht areas obtained a mark of more than 60% in Irish language proficiency tests.
A total of 486 gardaí serving in 57 Garda stations located in Gaeltacht areas in Donegal, Galway, and Kerry were tested for their ability to speak Irish. An analysis of the results shows 239 officers achieved a score of 60% or less, including eight who attained a mark of 40% or less.
Just over 9% — some 46 gardaí — obtained a mark in excess of 81% which would indicate a high level of fluency in Irish.
A Garda spokesperson said the records showed the highest recorded percentage score by gardaí as some may have taken the test more than once.
“It should be noted that gardaí from areas which are not designated as Gaeltacht areas may also be proficient in the Irish language,” he added.
However, it is understood An Garda Síochána remains concerned about fluency levels among gardaí stationed in Gaeltacht areas as it continues to advertise tenders to provide Irish language classes to officers in such regions.
Garda management has been criticised in the past by the Irish Language Commissioner over the ability of the force to deal with people through Irish.
In 2011 the Commissioner found it was in breach of the Garda Síochána Act 2005 when only one out of nine gardaí stationed in Bunbeg in the Donegal Gaeltacht had a reasonable command of the Irish language.
The garda spokesperson said the force had endeavoured since its inception in 1922 to provide a quality service in Irish and it was committed to the full implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003.
An Garda Síochána has also appointed an Irish Language Officer to oversee matters pertaining to the Irish language.
The Irish Language Development Unit, otherwise known as Rannóg na Gaeilge, based at the Garda College in Templemore also provides assistance to gardaí on all issues relating to the use of Irish, including research and translation services for statements, reports, legal charges, and other documents.
Gaeltacht courses are also run for employees who wish to improve or practice their Irish language skills. The programme for trainee gardaí also contains a compulsory Irish language module.
In 2013 the force introduced an Irish language stream in the recruitment process to attract applicants with fluency in Irish with up to 10% of intakes consisting of fluent Irish speakers, It also established an Irish language webpage, Gaeilge le Chéile, on the Garda portal, which is designed for use by any garda with an interest in improving their Irish language skills.
However, Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has said she had no direct role in where any gardaí were stationed but stressed that An Garda Síochána was fully committed to meeting its obligations under the Official Languages Act.
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