Twenty-one apply for Irish language commissioner role

Seán Ó Cuirreáin: Could do no more for the language rights of Irish speakers and Gaeltacht communities

More than 20 people have applied to take over the job of Irish language commissioner when the current holder steps down early, blaming Government inaction.

Seán Ó Cuirreáin will resign from his post as An Coimisinéir Teanga on February 23, two years ahead of schedule. He announced his decision in December and told an Oireachtas committee last month there was no more he could do for the language rights of Irish speakers and Gaeltacht communities.

Dinny McGinley, minister with responsibility for the Gaeltacht, advertised for expressions of interest in the role last month via the Public Appointments Service, which received 21 applications by the January 30 deadline.

“These applications are currently being considered. The minister is not limited to making an appointment from among those persons who have expressed an interest in the position,” said a spokesman for the Department of Arts, Heritage, and the Gaeltacht.

He said it is intended that a recommendation for the position will be brought to Government shortly, and that a commissioner is expected to be appointed soon after Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s departure.

“As in the case of the appointment of the ombudsman recently, the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga will continue to operate normally until the new Coimisinéir Teanga is appointed,” said the spokesman.

The job will be for six years and comes with a salary of €115,500. The role includes monitoring and ensuring compliance by public bodies with the Official Languages Act, and investigating complaints where bodies fail in their legal duties.

A bill proposing to bring the language commissioner’s functions within the ombudsman’s office is due for publication by the summer, although no specific date was available from the department.

Mr McGinley is due to respond to criticisms raised by Mr Ó Cuirreáin at a hearing of the Oireachtas subcommittee on the 20-year strategy for the Irish language on March 6. The committee heard from the outgoing commissioner in January that State policy on Irish will be viewed as a sham if it can not give assurances in forthcoming legislation to amend the Official Languages Act that it can communicate in Irish with Gaeltacht communities without terms and conditions, and that it will have adequate staff in public administration who are proficient in the language.

He revealed that only six of the 16 people responsible for the use of Irish in Government departments can speak it themselves. Mr Ó Cuirreáin said there is a failure of joined-up thinking when the State requires students to learn the language but often denies or obstructs the use of Irish by those people in their dealings with the State.

He also told TDs and senators is it is not enough for the civil service to self-audit its compliance with Irish language requirements and that they should be independently assessed.

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