Government blocks probe to find if judge can speak Irish

AN EFFORT by the Irish language ombudsman to establish if a district judge could speak fluent Irish has been blocked by the Government.

An Coimisineir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, launched the investigation after a district judge was appointed to a Gaeltacht area of Donegal.

The 1924 Courts of Justice Act states that a judge allocated to a district where the Irish language is in general use must have enough of a grasp of the language in order that an interpreter will not be required.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said he received a complaint by Conradh na Gaeilge following the appointment.

However, the efforts to establish if the judge could speak Irish were blocked by the Government.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said that this is the first instance on record where the Government impeded the work of a state ombudsman.

In the case of the judge’s appointment in Donegal, Mr Ó Cuirreáin sought a report from the commissioner’s office from the Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform. He also sought access to the relevant files.

However, a certificate was issued by the secretary general to the Government covering most of the relevant records.

Such a certificate, under the Official Languages Act, denies access to specified information.

Mr Ó Cuirreáin said that he had to discontinue the investigation as a result.

“Without access to the full information on file it would be unsafe to make findings or issue recommendations,” said Mr Ó Cuirreáin.

He also said the state could save money rather than add expense by ensuring greater numbers of staff have sufficient Irish to deal with the public wishing to use the language.

He said recruitment and training in the state sector appeared insufficient to ensure an adequate number of staff were competent in the Irish language to provide services through Irish as well as English.

His office received more than 600 complaints from the public about difficulties accessing state services through Irish last year, bringing total complaints since his office was set up in 2004 to almost 2,000. Almost one-third of complaints came from Dublin, and people from Galway, Kerry and Donegal made more than 40% of all complaints.

“I am not making the case for a return to compulsory Irish for state employees but I believe that a policy of compulsory English is not adequate either when members of the public deal with state bodies,” he said. “Such a move should have no additional cost implications.

“In fact, it would be more economical to employ people with competence in both Irish and English than the current system, which in many State organisations requires resorting to external commercial translation agencies to deal with the simplest of letters in Irish,” he said.

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