In his annual report, the commissioner, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, expressed concern about the ability of gardaí to deal with Irish-language speakers for routine queries.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin, who monitors how public bodies comply with the Official Languages Act, described 2012 as “not a vintage year” for the promotion of the Irish language in the public sector.
A total of 756 difficulties or problems in accessing State services as Gaeilge were reported to Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s office last year — a 3% increase on 2011.
“For every one step forward there appeared to have been two steps backwards,” said Mr Ó Cuirreáin.
Senior gardaí are organising an overhaul of procedures for dealing with the public through Irish. It comes after the commissioner investigated an incident in Dublin whereby a man was arrested and handcuffed before being brought to a Garda station until a garda who could speak as Gaeilge could be found.
The man had tried to conduct his business through Irish when stopped in relation to a road traffic matter unrelated to speeding or drink-driving.
Mr Ó Cuirreáin said gardaí had failed to comply in this case with their statutory commitment, which recognises the public’s right to conduct business with the force through either Irish or English.
He noted the Garda’s attitude was to treat Irish speakers as if they were speakers of a foreign language, despite the constitutional status of Irish.
The commissioner said he was struck during his investigation by the fact that gardaí who had been educated in the Irish school system and received training in Templemore had insufficient command of Irish to ask a driver, when stopped, basic questions like, “cad is ainm duit?”
He said that there was no adequate support system in place within An Garda Síochána to facilitate members of the public who wanted to conduct their interaction with gardaí through Irish.
However, Mr Ó Cuirreáin expressed satisfaction with the positive response he had received from Garda Commissioner Martin Callinan on their willingness to implement systematic change in order to avoid repetition of similar incidents.
As a result, gardaí are to receive a laminated card with useful Irish phrases commonly used in police business.
Overall the vast majority of complaints received by An Coimisinéir Teanga last year were resolved through informal negotiation with the relevant body.
However, Mr Ó Cuirreáin said there was considerable concern among Irish speakers about the future of the language and “serious apprehension” about the State’s efforts to protect and promote it, notwithstanding a 7% increase in the number of people using it daily, according to the census.
The commissioner made 12 findings against public bodies last year for breaches of language legislation, including government departments, the HSE, the Central Bank, and councils.