Thursday, 30 March 2006
Irish Language: Statements.
Éamon Ó Cuív (Minister, Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs; Galway West, Fianna Fail)
It would be very useful if the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, were to hold an interactive question and answer-type debate on the Irish language, rather than Members making long statements. In the ten minutes allotted for my reply, I cannot address all the issues raised. We have listened to a number of very good contributions today. Deputy Deasy is very forthright in his view and I will address some issues raised by him.
He referred to the translation of documents. Section 10 of the Act is very clear on what material must be translated. The number of documents requiring to be translated is very limited and these are major policy documents.
I am purposely speaking in English because there is no way of getting the English language media to listen if one speaks in Irish. All these matters were debated in detail in Irish but when the Act was passed there were complaints that they had not been told anything. English translations were provided but nobody bothered with them.
For the information of Deputy Deasy, I made inquiries as to the cost in 2005 to Departments, the Revenue Commissioners and the Office of Public Works of compliance with section 10 of the Act. The cost was approximately €300,000 to €350,000, between all the Departments. The total expenditure of those Departments is approximately €50 billion and the cost of compliance should be put in that context.
A study of the figures showed there are ways of reducing costs and one of the simplest is to look at the costs and time-wasting expended in producing documents that are far too big for anyone to read. The first step should be to look at the English language costs of those documents. The biggest cost is in compiling the documents as they are often voluminous. It would be more cost effective in any language to reduce the size of the documents by giving the relevant information and cutting out the many pages which are not read in either English or Irish. When they were produced in English, nobody ever read them and it never worried anyone that they were growing bigger.
Every week I receive many documents and I have a wastepaper basket. I plead with bodies such as all the county enterprise boards to stop sending me their annual reports in hard copy. I would prefer if they sent me notification that their annual reports are available to read on the Internet. I put all hard copies into the wastepaper basket. I doubt if other Members read them either.
This House agreed that people had a fundamental right to receive versions of documents in both official languages. It was argued that the cost of translating documents such as county plans and so on, could be devoted to education. I challenge any local authority that claims it expended €30,000 on section 10 compliance last year — which I doubt. Development plans are made every five years so the costs would be divided over five years. I do not believe any local authority is offering that if it did not have to comply with section 10, it would hand up that money and transfer it to the local vocational education committee for textbooks written in Irish. The reason for the introduction of the Act was that the local authorities were trying to access the Irish funds which should be used for paying for teaching through Irish and Irish language textbooks to fulfil their fundamental duty to produce the documents in Irish. The reason for the Act was to stop funds designated for the Irish language being sucked out to be used to produce fundamental documents in the Irish language.
If this is the policy of Waterford County Council, why did it not give that €30,000 or €40,000 to the Irish language in the county? A bilingual leaflet was distributed to every house in County Waterford because Waterford County Council voluntarily agreed to do so in a plan which was submitted to my Department for approval. It was not a question of compulsion. The council proposed the plan and it is not forced to undertake it. It is ridiculous for the Deputy to blame me for something which the council voluntarily agreed to do and it makes a mockery of the undertaking.
Deputy Deasy expressed the view that the Act should be amended. I do not know whether the Deputy was speaking for Deputy Deasy or speaking officially for the Fine Gael Party.