Validity of area plans questioned over translation issue

The validity of Cork County Council local area plans could be in question after it ignored the language commissioner’s advice about a legal obligation to publish the draft plans in Irish.

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An Coimisinéir Teanga Rónán Ó Domhnaill made the claim after investigating the council last year.

His office got a complaint in October 2016 that the council did not intend to publish eight local area plans (LAPs) in Irish, as they are legally required to do. In addition, the related consultation documents placed on the council website featured only the English versions of Gaeltacht placenames.

Despite reminders from An Coimisinéir’s office of its statutory obligations, Cork County Council published the draft LAPs in English only on its website in November 2016. It provided no written response to numerous requests from Mr Ó Domhnaill’s office during the two-month consultation period, prompting him to launch an investigation.

It is a matter of concern that an organisation of this nature would decided of its own accord not to comply with its own statutory obligations or with the law of the land,” Mr Ó Domhnaill’s 2017 annual report said.

In response to his investigation, the council had said management took this approach to Irish-language translations for some time beforehand after considering various issues. These included tight statutory timelines, large costs when considering a lack of interest or demand, and accuracy of translating documents with very technical language.

While councillors had sanctioned €182,000 for the draft plans in 2017, the total estimated cost of preparing them rose to just over €3m, more than €560,000 of it associated with non-staff costs. The council estimated an Irish translation of the eight draft LAPs would have cost €156,000, which Mr Ó Domhnaill’s report said was quite low in comparison to the project’s overall budget.

But the council may have left itself in a position where it cannot be completely assured of the validity of the plans due to the negligence of its approach to adhering to statutory obligations,” the report said.

It said local authorities’ draft development plans are among very few documents that the Official Languages Act requires a public body to publish simultaneously in both English and Irish.

The council’s own statutory language scheme, which it is legally obliged to implement, commits it to use the Placenames (Gaeltacht Areas) Order 2004 for official purposes. But the report noted that the council continued to use the unofficial English language versions of Gaeltacht placenames for official purposes in the online publication of the material changes to the draft plans.

The investigation was one of eight launched by An Coimisinéir Teanga last year. Among its recommendations were that the council ensure future adherence to its legal obligations, and make simultaneous publication of Irish and English versions of documents central to planning of such projects.

As reported in yesterday’s Irish Examiner, An Coimisinéir found the Department of Education breached its legal obligations by not accommodating parental demand for Irish-language education when selecting a patron for a planned new primary school in the Drumcondra/Marino area of Dublin in 2016. The department now plans changes to how it decides patrons of new schools, including provisions that Irish and English-medium schools may be established if local demand for a gaelscoil passes a yet-to-be-decided threshold.

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