Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Wednesday, 22 September 2021
Joint Committee on the Irish Language, the Gaeltacht and the Irish Speaking Community
Beart na Breatnaise agus Caighdeáin Teanga: Coimisinéir Teanga na Breataine Bige
Mr. Aled Roberts:
It has strengthened our role and made it clear the language should not be considered purely from a linguistic protection perspective. One of the seven key aims of the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 includes building a successful, culturally diverse and bilingual Wales, and therefore it places extra duties on those public bodies so that they cannot be in breach of what are sometimes quite narrow Welsh language standards. To do so would also put them in breach of their responsibilities under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015.
It is early days as far as proper implementation on the ground is concerned. There is a requirement on health boards, which have only been subject to the standards since 2019, to include linguistic assessments in their future planning. There is a responsibility on them to do that under the Welsh language legislation, but that is reinforced through the expectations placed upon them under the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015. To date, we have seen a failure by those health boards to assess adequately the linguistic needs of their populations and a failure of that to feed through into their workforce planning arrangements going forward.
The maturity we need within the debate around well-being etc. at health board and local authority levels is something my office would expect because we went through the exact same process with local authorities when standards came through. What can happen now is that individual citizens can make a complaint directly to my office if they feel their health board or local authority has not taken proper regard of their needs and linguistic requirements as far as their health and social care are concerned. We have convinced the health boards and local authorities by now that this is not an issue of language rights per sebut that the availability of healthcare or social care in the language of one's choice goes directly to the quality of the care that is given. I mention the example of a young child in Wales who is unable to converse in English or an elderly patient who has lost his or her English because he or she is living with dementia. Whether or not that authority then provides the service in your mother tongue or the tongue you have reverted to impacts on the quality of the care that is delivered.
In a roundabout way, I see the situation improving but I would not want to give the committee the impression we are there yet as far as Wales is concerned either, mainly because some of the obligations that are placed on these public bodies have only been in place for two years or so. In 18 months of those two years we have been living with a pandemic so those bodies have had a lot of firefighting to do rather than addressing some of the strategic weaknesses in their planning.