Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Tuesday, 19 November 2019
Joint Standing Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Islands
An Ghaeilge agus Seirbhísí Dátheangacha: An tSeirbhís um Cheapacháin Phoiblí
Ms Shirley Comerford:
I am here today as requested by the committee to address the response provided previously by the Public Appointments Service, PAS, to the questionnaire submitted by the committee and the objectives and actions that are being implemented by PAS in the provision of Irish language and bilingual services. I can confirm that the Public Appointments Service continues to review the level of demand for the provision of our services through the Irish language by monitoring the number of queries, requests and applications received through Irish. We are aware, however, that there is likely to be a latent demand for services across the public service to be delivered through Irish owing to the fact that, due to previous poor experiences, people engage with the service through English. This is understandably frustrating for the Irish language speakers, and PAS has focused, therefore, on improving and promoting the services we offer to Irish language speakers.
PAS is the recruitment and resourcing service provider for client organisations in the civil and public service. It is responsible for the sourcing, assessment and delivery of quality candidates to those clients. We run a wide variety and range of openly advertised and interdepartmental promotion competitions within the Civil Service. We also recruit the most senior levels in local authorities, trainee gardaí, and a range of management, executive and specialist roles across the Civil Service and public service.
PAS also has a key role in the identification of suitable members for appointment to State boards. PAS has a good track record of providing services through Irish, and we have prepared a number of Irish language schemes aimed at improving the delivery of services through Irish for our various customer groups. We provide services through Irish to Irish speakers who make contact with our office. The office has arrangements in place to put members of the public in touch with minimum delay with an appropriate member of staff who can deal with their business, whether in the English or Irish language.
Over recent years our website, publicjobs.ie,has been the main channel for managing and delivering our recruitment services and businesses. There is a tab at the top of our website whereby candidates may choose to have the content displayed in Irish or English. The Irish version of this website is a dynamic rather than a static one, with new jobs advertised in both the English and Irish languages. The candidate registration facility is in both official languages and the job title, job description and application form are available in both official languages during the application period. Information booklets are available in both official languages for general service grades, posts in Gaeltacht communities, posts where the Irish language is a particular requirement, and posts under the remit of the Department of Education and Skills. Of the 518,905 members of the public registered with publicjobs.ie, 4,131 have indicated a preference for doing their business with PAS through Irish. All of the messages issued to these users are sent in the official language of their choice.
PAS is also responsible for the recruitment and selection of candidates with proficiency in Irish to meet the needs of clients. A Government decision of 30 October 2013 approved the introduction of measures to support Irish language proficiency in the Civil Service and replace the bonus marking policy with measures that seek to increase the cohort of functional bilinguals in the Civil Service. PAS initially introduced Irish language proficiency as a separate stream for general service recruitment competitions. More recently, we run stand-alone competitions to establish panels for entry grades. In these cases, all of the selection processes are conducted through Irish. These include clerical officer competitions in 2018, and we are advertising a nationwide executive officer, EO, competition this weekend as well as putting plans in place to advertise for the higher executive officer, HEO, competition in 2020 for candidates with fluency in Irish.
We are aware that the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht has put measures in place to promote the Irish language as a career option in the public service. This includes the Conradh na Gaeilge seó bóthair to target second and third level students and those attending Gaeltacht summer colleges. PAS sent a team to the recent ESB Creative Tech Fest in the National Conference Centre, which was attended by many Irish-speaking second level students. We hope that these initiatives will increase the numbers of suitably qualified candidates applying for Irish language roles.
Overall, 64 general grade assignments were made to Irish language posts since 2016, ranging from 35 clerical officers to two assistant principal officers. Clerical officer panels for 15 counties were put in place through the 2018 competition. Fifteen candidates were assigned through this process and all the panels were exhausted. The overall number who applied for Irish language clerical officer was 259 compared with 14,013 for the general clerical officer competition. These numbers demonstrate the challenges we are facing in attracting Irish-speaking candidates through the public service.
PAS continues to conduct Irish language proficiency tests for roles that it recruits for on behalf of the local authorities. Those who demonstrate proficiency in both official languages are awarded an additional 6% of the total marks available at interview for such proficiency. We also recruit Garda trainees and have run six recruitment campaigns since 2013. Each of these has had an Irish language stream. Eighty-three Garda trainee candidates qualified through these streams since 2013.
We note a significant drop between the number of applications received for the Irish language stream and the numbers completing the tests. It has been our experience across competitions that many candidates applied for the Irish language stream, but when contacted, they did not have the fluency or wish to proceed through that stream. The newly-introduced model of running competitions specifically for Irish language, such as the HEO and EO, may improve this issue for us.
PAS also recruits for posts across the public service where the ability to communicate effectively in Irish is an essential requirement, including a range of primary district inspector and translator roles. We also recruit for posts across the public service where a good and reasonable knowledge of Irish is an essential requirement. Since 2013, PAS has recruited for 11 different examination assessment manager roles in the State Examinations Commission. PAS uses both internal and external resources to support the provision of service through Irish, including the development and maintenance of a list of potential selection board members with the ability and proficiency to carry out selection processes through the Irish language.
In addition to the website, marketing materials such as leaflets and banners are provided in both the English and Irish languages at careers fairs, conferences and events. We also advertise in Seachtain, Tuairisc.ie, PEIG, LinkedIn, and Facebook to target Gaeltacht areas specifically.
All staff are provided with information on the Irish language services provided by PAS and information on the contents of the Irish language scheme. To promote Irish informally with staff, PAS has some common phrases in Irish and their equivalent in English on the office’s intranet, and these are updated regularly. We also provide Irish language training for staff and highlight further opportunities for training and qualifications available to staff interested in developing their skills further so that they are confident in providing services through Irish. Three staff have completed such training in the past two years and six staff have recently commenced this training. Given the relative size of our organisation, this is very encouraging.
PAS has had a translator on staff since 2002 and is currently filling the vacancy arising from the retirement of our translator earlier this year. Two clerical officers were also sourced from the Irish panel in 2017 and work in areas of recruitment that have the highest demand for services through Irish. In addition to the translator, PAS has seven Irish speakers who provide services to the public through Irish. It is expected that the six staff currently undergoing Irish language training and the newly recruited translator will also provide such services from 2020.
All of our publications and general support material for candidates and the general public are available in both official languages, for example, our customer charter and annual report, etc.
We are also committed to supporting Irish candidates applying for roles in the EU institutions. In co-operation with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht and the Department of Foreign Affairs, we provided significant support to Irish candidates applying for the roles of Irish linguistic assistant and Irish translator. As a result, nine candidates were successful in the most recent linguistic assistant competition and 15 were successful in the translator competition.
PAS is aware of the Official Languages (Amendment) Bill and the likely changes that will arise through this legislation.
We welcome the opportunity to co-operate with the Department of Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht in the implementation of the provisions of this Bill. We also look forward to sharing our knowledge, expertise and experience in the area of recruitment and to engaging with other bodies to discuss and develop our thinking in the area of promoting the use of Irish in both the Public Appointments Service itself and the public service generally through our recruitment processes.