1 April 2004 Edition
Government action is the missing link
Sinn Féin held its annual slógadh last weekend in Dún Chaoin in Kerry. One of the key issues discussed at the weekend was the campaign for Irish to be given the status of Official Working Language of the EU.
Speaking on Saturday, Six-County EU candidate Bairbre de Brún said the issue will be an important one in the forthcoming European election campaign.
"The European Union has eleven official working languages. Irish is not one of them," she said. "From May of this year, when the accession states become members of the EU, an additional nine languages will be recognised as official working languages. Again Irish will not be included.
"EU Commission President Romano Prodi and the Commissioners-designate, launched the official EU website in the languages of the new member states on 16 March. Sinn Féin wants to welcome the new accession states to the EU on 1 May, and the fact that all of the accession states will be able to access the official EU website, EUROPA, in their own language, must be viewed as a progressive step. However, once again the Irish language has been overlooked by both the EU and the Irish Presidency.
"At present, Irish has what is referred to as treaty status, meaning that copies of treaties, such as Nice, are translated. In addition, any correspondence with the EU in Irish will be responded to in Irish. However, legislation and law are not provided in Irish.
"When Ireland joined the Common Market, a mistake resulted in Irish being left off the original list of working languages. This has been admitted by a senior civil servant involved in the negotiations at the time. Now is the time to put that right. As new countries are applying to have their languages included this year, now is the perfect time for the Irish government to request the inclusion of Irish in this list.
"Attaining official working status is a relatively straightforward matter, requiring only acceptance by the Council of Ministers. Neither the governments nor the peoples of the other states are opposed to the Irish language having such status. The question is, therefore, who is opposed to the Irish government putting this before the Council of Europe?
"In 1997, the Fianna Fáil/Progressive Democrat Programme for Government stated that "the government supports the campaign for official status for the Irish language in the EU".
After the election of 2002 they said, 'we will in future use the report of Coimisiún na Gaeltachta 2002 as a policy basis'. Recommendation 3 of that Commission's report reads as follows: 'That status as an official working language in the European Union be achieved.'
"Minister Ó Cuív has said that he didn't designate Irish for the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages because Irish is not a minority language but a national language. I can well understand this stance. Yet now we are told that the Irish Government can't obtain official working status for the Irish language at the EU because it is not the language of the government or Dáil. What status does the Irish language have according to the Irish government? Does it have any status at all?
"Some critics have argued that providing additional translation would be a waste of money which could be used more effectively in other ways. Yet these same people raised no objection to this money being spent on translation into eleven or even 20 other languages. Only when Irish was mooted did they begin to ask questions about the cost. When one considers the low level of budget increase involved, a more appropriate question would be whether the rights and entitlements of Irish speakers can be denied on such spurious grounds.
"Granting official working status will give Irish speakers equality with their other European counterparts and help the overall development and growth of the language. It will also substantially assist the full recognition of Irish in the Six Counties, where it continues to experience significant levels of governmental and statutory resistance. A positive response by the Taoiseach on this issue would help convince nationalists in the North that at least the Irish government is serious about the commitments given in the Good Friday Agreement to promote the Irish language, and will make British Government or unionist resistance all the more difficult. International recognition would have a huge impact on the status of Irish language speakers and learners.
"The Stádas campaign, which is calling for the Irish government to take the necessary steps to secure recognition, is growing more popular by the day.
"All those involved in the campaign need to be commended for their great work. It is time for the Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, to request the inclusion of Irish in the list of official EU working languages. No other obstacle exists. The time to act is now."