Irish speakers can benefit from EU official status

YOUR anti-Irish language editorial (January 21) needs to be addressed. The EU is founded on the cornerstone of diversity, in particular linguistic diversity. The number of EU official languages has grown from four in 1958 to 23 today. This involves not only the right to speak one’s official language in parliament, but also to access European laws and services in one’s official language of choice.

It also has positive implications for people with knowledge of two or more official EU languages, as this is a prerequisite for all EU jobs. More than 400,000 people use Irish on a daily basis. More than 1.6 million Irish people have knowledge of Irish. If Irish were not an official EU language, their language skills would be disregarded.

Indeed it would be difficult to invent a more effective device to disadvantage Irish people in the European job market than to remove the official status of the language.

EU laws and official documents of general application are translated into the official EU languages. The Oireachtas must issue our laws, 75% of which originate at European level, in Irish and English. Better the cost of translation be borne in Brussels than in Dublin. There are job opportunities for translators, interpreters, and lawyer-linguists with high competence in Irish. Is there something wrong with this?

The funding for this regime comes from the EU translation budget (which currently costs €2 per European citizen per year, or 1% of total EU expenditure), and to which Ireland contributes in any event.

Not every document is translated, nor is every word spoken at EU meetings simultaneously interpreted into Irish. EU institutions may stipulate in their rules of procedure which official languages are to be used in specific cases. In practice, the normal day-to-day working languages used, for example, in the commission, are English, French and, increasingly, German. It is to be expected that the use of Irish (or Maltese, Slovenian, Estonian) will be less that that of those languages.

There are of course teething problems. As a result of more than 30 years of neglect at home, the downgrading of Irish in particular and languages in general in our education system, Irish-language interpreters have to be trained at the University of Westminster. However, progress is being made. Given that MEPs only get one minute to speak on any topic, and that Irish interpreters are not always available, 30 minutes of Irish spoken in the parliament in its first year as an official language is not bad and compares well with the languages of other small nations.

All official documents are not available in Irish in Ireland, contrary to your editorial. Precious few services are available through Irish in Ireland, including such basics as speech therapy for Gaeltacht children. Courts in the Gaeltacht are generally conducted in English. Bilingualism in official signage and oral announcement is a rarity.

We hope this improve over time through the Official Languages Act.

However, proper initiatives and policies to mainstream the language do bear fruit: Raidió na Gaeltachta, TG4, Irish-medium education, Seachtain na Gaeilge, and of course official status in Europe.

Dáithí Mac Cárthaigh

Uachtarán

Conradh na Gaeilge

6 Sráid Fhearchair

Baile Átha Cliath 2

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