Government Chief Whip and Minister of State for the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands, Seán Kyne T.D., has welcomed the detailed discussion by Government of matters relating to the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands at its meeting in Gleann Cholm Cille in the Donegal Gaeltacht today.
Minister Kyne, at the invitation of his colleague, Josepha Madigan T.D., Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, brought four memoranda before Government for noting today addressing the following issues of importance to his areas of responsibility:
- Minister Kyne informed the cabinet of his intention to present the draft Official Languages Act 2003 (Public Bodies) Regulations 2019 to Dáil and Seanad Éireann prior to them being signed by all relevant Ministers. In this regard, Minister Kyne stated:
“The Language Commissioner has continuously highlighted the difficulties created for citizens who wished to deal with the Public Service through Irish, but who were unable to do so, due to the fact that the schedule of public bodies to which the Official Languages Act 2003 applies has not been updated since 2006. I am pleased to announce that, following extensive consultations with Government departments and other public bodies, draft regulations have been prepared with the assistance of the Office of the Attorney General. These regulations will allow us to update the list of public bodies that are subject to the Official Language Act by deleting references to public bodies that have ceased to exist or have become defunct since the Regulations were made in 2006, and by bringing new public bodies within the scope of the Act. I will be presenting the draft regulations for approval to both Houses of the Oireachtas on their return.”
“In relation to the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill, I updated my cabinet colleagues on the significant progress which has been made in drafting the Bill in recent months. The Bill is complex in nature and involves a fundamental revision of the approach to protecting, strengthening and growing the use of the Irish language in the public sector. The drafting process has, therefore, required considerable consultation with relevant public sector bodies. Intensive work is continuing and I look forward to returning to cabinet with a draft Bill for publication in the autumn.”
- Minister Kyne also informed the Cabinet of his intention to form an Interdepartmental Committee for Island Development, which he will chair himself.
“The inhabited offshore islands hold a wealth of cultural heritage,” Minister Kyne said, “and one of the key objectives of the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht is to ensure that viable communities continue to live on the islands. The Government, through the Department, supports the provision of transport services and infrastructure to provide access to the offshore islands. While a number of policies, which have largely been developed on an ad hoc basis, already exist across Government, an all-of-Government approach is required in order for our island communities to reach their full potential. It is for this reason that this important step has been taken today. It is intended to develop a cross-Government Islands Policy with an associated Action Plan stemming from the work of the committee. The result of this work will, if necessary, then be underpinned by appropriate legislation. I am delighted to have brought this proposal for discussion by Cabinet as it is the first time a project of this nature has been undertaken since the publication in 1996 of the Report of the last Interdepartmental Committee on Island Development.”
- Minister Kyne updated the Cabinet on the statutory Gaeltacht Language Planning Process and presented for noting the results of his Department’s Review of the Language Assistants Scheme and the launch by him of the Uíbh Ráthach Task Force Report and Action Plan 2019 - 2022 at an event in Cahersiveen earlier this week.
“This time last year, my Department published its 5-Year Action Plan for the Irish Language 2018-2022,” Minister Kyne said. “It sets out over 180 specific actions to be implemented by approximately 60 stakeholders and the first annual progress report in relation to the Action Plan will be published in the autumn, following Government approval. One of the key drivers in support of the implementation of the Action Plan is the Gaeltacht language planning process. Of the 26 Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas designated by Regulation under the Gaeltacht Act of 2012, 15 have been sanctioned to date. Overall funding of €3.2m has been allocated to my Department to support the process this year and, in recent days, I announced that a total allocation of €1.7m is being provided to Údarás na Gaeltachta and Foras na Gaeilge in support of the process in the current year. This process is really building a head of steam,” added the Minister of State, “and I was happy to report to Government today that 9 Language Planning Officers and 3 Assistant Officers have been appointed in Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas.”
- Minister Kyne also provided the Government with an update on progress in relation to the gradual reduction of the derogation on the use of the Irish language as an official and working language of the EU, as he presented colleagues with the report from the European Commission on the Union institutions’ progress, which was adopted by the European Commission on the 4th July. On this, Minister Kyne pointed out that:
“On the whole, this report is very positive. I was very pleased to brief the Cabinet on the progress that has been made in all areas of the action plan aimed at ending the derogation, as a result of ongoing work of my Department, in conjunction with the EU Institutions and the 3rd level sector at home. Ireland’s status as an official EU language is providing new employment opportunities for Irish people, at home and in the EU. As of last December there were 101 Irish language staff working across the EU institutions. These positions are highly-skilled, specialist in nature and, consequently, well remunerated.”
“The Irish language has a key role to play in making cultural and heritage connections, not least with the global Irish diaspora where the language strengthens links to home and maintains expressions of Irish identity through generations. In line with the Government’s Global Ireland 2025 Strategy, my Department is currently engaged in a wide variety of Irish language work which focuses on this Global Community. The work at EU level enhances this overall strategy and promotes the language as a key element of Ireland’s identity. I would like to acknowledge the institutions’ continued commitment to bringing the derogation to an end, as outlined in this report, and look forward to our continued co-operation between now and 2022.”
Notes for Editors:
Official Languages Act 2003 (Public Bodies) Regulations 2019
The Official Languages Act 2003 provides for a framework and mechanism of planned improvements in the delivery of public services through Irish over the short-, medium- and longer-term so that the state's obligations can be met in a coherent way and with progress being achieved in the context of existing resources over time.
The proposed Regulations have been the subject of ongoing consultation with the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel. The purpose of the regulations is to update the first schedule of the Official Languages Act 2003 by deleting references to public bodies that have ceased to exist or have become defunct since previous Regulations were made in 2006. The regulations will also bring new public bodies within the scope of the Act. In many cases, these new bodies will replace previously existing public bodies.
It is intended to include a provision in the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill requiring the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht to update the Schedule to the Act at least once every two years following its enactment.
Official Languages (Amendment) Bill
A central element of the Bill is the manner in which Irish language speakers are recruited to the public service. In order to inform this process, research will be commissioned aimed at identifying inter alia priority areas for the recruitment of Irish speaking officials and the provision of services in Irish. Another significant element of the Bill is the replacement of the existing language scheme regime by the introduction of language standards for each government sector, with higher standards to be achieved by sectors with greater interaction with the public.
Drafting of the Bill was delayed earlier this year due to the prioritisation of Brexit related legislation, in anticipation of a potential ‘disorderly Brexit’ with what was then the expected departure of the UK from the EU on 29 March 2019. The Bill is complex in nature and involves a fundamental revision of the approach to protecting, strengthening and growing the use of the Irish language in the public sector. The drafting process has therefore required considerable consultation with relevant public sector bodies. Intensive work is continuing in order to publish the Bill in the Autumn.
Interdepartmental Committee for Island Development
The National Planning Framework particularly recognises the cultural significance of island communities, noting that they are distinctive and unique in an Irish context while also highlighting the fragility and isolation of island life. The Framework also highlights the importance of safe and regular access to the islands through passenger and cargo ferry services, as well as the recent upgrading of pier and landing facilities, as critical in supporting the sustainability of island communities.
A Spending Review of Subsidised Ferry Services to the Offshore Islands, carried out by the Irish Government Economic and Evaluation Service in 2018, found that the past decade saw improvements in levels of employment and visitors to the islands and that the opportunity to enhance the tourism offering of the islands is important for their future sustainability. As part of any new policy context, therefore, greater clarity on the specific responsibilities of DCHG in relation to the islands will be essential and a balancing will be required of current Departmental activity which is focused on procuring, subsidising and managing transport services and the Department's wider strategic objective of ensuring a cross-Government approach to meeting the needs of and sustaining island communities. It is for this reason that Minister Kyne has asked the Government to note his intention to establish an Interdepartmental Committee for Island Development with a view to publishing a cross- Government policy for the islands and, if thought necessary, underpinning that policy with appropriate legislation. This is the first time a project of this nature has been undertaken since the publication in 1996 of the Report of the last Interdepartmental Committee on Island Development.
The Gaeltacht Language Planning Process
The Gaeltacht Act 2012, provides the statutory footing for the language planning process. Communities in 26 Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas, up to 16 Gaeltacht Service Towns and currently 3 Irish Language Networks are being allocated two years in general to prepare language plans for Ministerial approval and seven years to implement their agreed plans.
DCHG has overall responsibility for the process and is tasked under the Act with evaluating plans prior to approval as well as reviewing implementation. The following is a brief overview of the process:
Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas
Of the 26 Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas designed by Regulation under the Act, 15 have been sanctioned to date. It is expected that the language plan for Tuaisceart Dhún na nGall will be sanctioned shortly.
Where plans have been approved, an annual allocation of €100,000 to €150,000 is being provided by DCHG to each community to assist in their implementation. This financial allocation provides for the appointment at community level of Language Planning Officers. To date, 9 such Language Planning Officers and 3 Assistant Officers have been appointed in Gaeltacht Language Planning Areas.
It should be noted that in the preparation and approval of plans and, in accordance with the Department’s Language Planning Guidelines, plans are developed around both quantitative and qualitative data, namely: census data, research on language supports and activities in each area and surveys of local communities to identify the level of support for action in favour of language usage. This approach seeks to establish the types of action which local communities favour. On this basis, measurable actions and targets have been set in agreed plans, the implementation of which will form the key function of Language Planning Officers appointed under the process.
Gaeltacht Service Towns
In relation to Gaeltacht Service Towns and on foot of a consultation process conducted by DCHG in 2014, a potential 16 towns have been selected as possible Gaeltacht Service Towns – conditional on approval of language plans. Of the 16 towns shortlisted, the preparation of plans is in hand in relation to Letterkenny, Daingean Uí Chúis, An Clochán Liath, Tralee, Dungarvan, Castlebar and the Cities of Galway and Cork. Just last Monday, Minister Kyne announced that Cahersiveen will also soon commence the process of preparing a plan.
Irish Language Networks
There are currently three networks recognised under the process, namely Loughrea, Co. Galway, Ennis, Co. Clare, and Clondalkin, Dublin. DCHG is currently evaluating plans in relation to all three.
Support for the process
Since the process commenced in 2014, the Department has provided specific financial support on an annual basis to both Údarás na Gaeltachta and Foras na Gaeilge. Overall funding of €3.2m has been allocated to DCHG in 2019 to support the process. In recent days, Minister Kyne announced that a total allocation of €1.7m is being provided to Údarás and Foras na Gaeilge in support of the process in the current year (Údarás na Gaeltachta will be allocated €1.4m while An Foras will receive €323,750).
To further underpin the process, a number of new measures in support of early years, the family, the traditional arts and youth development were initiated centrally in 2018. Other supports provided by the Department include the Language Planning Guidelines, the fifth edition of which was published in January 2019, as well as a language planning map viewer (GIS). It should be noted that DCHG also supports the language planning process through its Community and Language Supports Programme, thus ensuring that exchequer funding of €12.9m is being provided in the current year in direct and indirect support of the language planning process.
Review of the Language Assistants Scheme
The Language Assistants Scheme provides assistance to Gaeltacht schools in providing additional language learning and enrichment opportunities for school children and students at both primary and post-primary level respectively. Minister Kyne recently approved a substantial three-year allocation of €3.6m to provide an additional 6 weeks support in all schools. This will benefit 132 Gaeltacht schools - 108 primary and 24 post-primary.
In order to further ensure the effectiveness of the scheme, the Department commissioned a review of the scheme in 2018 which was undertaken by Fiontar and Scoil na Gaeilge, DCU and is now nearing completion. It is intended to publish the review in the autumn.
The Uibh Ráthach Task Force Report and Action Plan 2019 - 2022
Minister Kyne launched The Uibh Ráthach Task Force Report and Action Plan 2019 - 2022 at an event in Cahersiveen last Monday, 22 July 2019.
The Plan represents the culmination of work commenced in September 2017 by an Inter-agency Task Force, under the Chair of Údarás na Gaeltachta. The task force was established in response to the findings of a socio-economic and demographic study of the Gaeltacht area of Uíbh Ráthach. Key findings of that study included the following:
- The population of the Uíbh Ráthach Gaeltacht has decreased from 3,036 (1956) to 1,797 (2011). This equates to a 41% decline.
- The Uíbh Ráthach Gaeltacht recorded a higher elderly dependency ratio than the county and state average.
The Irish Language in the European Union
A full copy of the Report from the Commission to the Council on the Union institutions’ progress towards the implementation of the gradual reduction of the Irish language derogation is available here: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A52019DC0318
The Irish language was granted status as an official and working language of the EU from 1 January 2007 under Regulation 920/2005. The Regulation included a derogation on the use of the language to be reviewed every five years with the first period to continue until 31 December 2011. As a result of the first review, the derogation was extended until 31 December 2016 under Regulation 1257/2010. Under the terms of the derogation which is in force since 2007, only those EU laws made under the co-decision procedure had to be translated into Irish.
In December 2015, following a request from the Irish Government, the European Council adopted a regulation aimed at eliminating the derogation on an incremental basis by the end of 2021. The EU institutions are now preparing to provide services through Irish at the same level as other official EU languages. The timetable for the incremental increase is as follows:
Directives adopted by the European Parliament and the Council
No later than 1 January 2017
Decisions adopted by the European Parliament and the Council
No later than 1 January 2018
Directives adopted by the Council aimed at each Member State
No later than 1 January 2020
Regulations adopted by the Council
No later than 1 January 2020
Decisions taken by the Council which do not specify whom they are aimed at
No later than 1 January 2020
Regulations adopted by the Commission
No later than 1 January 2021
Directives adopted by the Commission aimed at each Member State
No later than 1 January 2021
Decisions taken by the Commission which do not specify whom they are aimed at
No later than 1 January 2021