Seán Ó Cuirreáin, who is in effect the ombudsman for Irish language issues, yesterday said the fact only 3% of the administrative staff were sufficiently fluent showed how much the stock in the language had fallen in the civil service since compulsory Irish was abolished 30 years ago. Then, education was perceived as an almost wholly Irish department.
“The small number of Irish speakers indicates low the threshold is at present. The purpose of the Official Languages Act is to move the Irish language from the margins into the mainstream in a gradual way. In one sense, the only way is up.”
In his annual report, he also says Irish-speaking civil servants may have been denied promotions to which they were entitled because Government agreements were not implemented.
He referred to failures to follow schemes put in place to safeguard Irish once it was no longer compulsory.
The Government agreed additional marks would be given to job applicants with proficiency in both official languages, as it would be considered an extra level of skill.
According to Mr Ó Cuirreáin: “It now appears that half of all departments have not complied with this system in their internal promotion competitions.”
This came to his attention when a civil servant from the Department of Education claimed he had lost out on promotion because he had not been allotted marks for proficiency in Irish.
Upon inquiry, the Coimisinéir discovered half the departments had no such systems in place.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin said this failure has contributed to the situation in the Department of Education and has also led to difficulties for Irish speakers and those from Gaeltacht areas when they try to access services in Irish.
“There will be those who will argue that the additional skill of proficiency in Irish should not attract such recognition. That argument is not relevant in this instance. The core issue here concerns compliance with Government decisions,” he said.
In his report, Mr Ó Cuirreáin also highlights the non-availability of the Rules of the Road in Irish, which he identifies as a serious lacuna.
In all, 415 complaints were made last year in relation to accessing public services in Irish. This marked an annualised increase of 14% on the number of cases brought in 2004. A third of complaints came from Gaeltacht areas and more than a third came from Dublin.