Thursday, 8 October 2020
Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2019: An Dara Céim - Official Languages (Amendment) Bill 2019: Second Stage
The Labour Party welcomes this Bill. It has been ten months since it was published and it has been a very peculiar legislative period. The Minister has brought this forward as soon as feasibly possible and this is appreciated. The Labour Party will look to bring some amendments to the Bill to strengthen it, but overall it is a move in the right direction and we broadly support it.
I will, however, flag some of the issues here that we will be raising. An Post should not be able to avoid obligations of section 9 of the current Act with regard to marketing materials made available to the public because their duties under the Official Languages Act 2003 were not made sufficiently clear. If a public body or a Government Department contacts the public in any way that contact should be made bilingually or in Irish only, and current exceptions should not be allowed. There should be a requirement for a specific level of advertising to be included in the Bill. It has been made abundantly clear that during the Covid crisis there was very little, almost zero, Irish or bilingual advertising from the HSE and the Government. I spent a few days in the Gaeltacht during the summer and the vast majority of HSE signs were in English. It was very visible.
Warnings on alcoholic drinks should be bilingual as well, as they are in other bilingual countries. That could be included in this Bill.
There is a broader issue involved with the promotion of the Irish language, which this Bill falls under. I will use this opportunity to speak about what the Minister of State and the Government can do before next week's budget, and then beyond, to promote the Irish language, in particular to young people. I am sure the Minister of State is familiar with Raidió Rí-Rá, which is an Irish-language music station aimed at 12 to 30-year olds. It broadcasts online and via its app and has studios in Dublin, Cork and Galway. It is seeking an FM licence. There is no concern regarding the frequency; it just wants the opportunity to be able to broadcast to the 32 counties. Raidió Rí-Rá is a unique offering. It is a vibrant radio station operated by young people for young people. It plays exactly the same music and content as any radio station broadcasting in English, whether that is FM104, Spin 103 in Dublin, or stations anywhere else around the country. The one defining and distinct selling point of Raidió Rí-Rá, however, is that it broadcasts in Irish. The costs associated with the request are not insignificant but, that said, they are not too high. I am sure a briefing has been sent to the Minister of State's office on this issue. This could have benefits for the language, and particularly for promoting it to young people. Those benefits would be manifest compared with the money required to support it.
I am someone who is constantly trying to relearn Irish. At the moment, I have CDs in my car, which I bought about six months ago to try to bone up on my Irish. It is not working for me, but I am trying all the time. A station like Raidió Rí-Rá would benefit people like me, who went through our education system for 14 years and still does not have the confidence or competence to speak as Gaeilge in our national Parliament. We need to look at other ways of promoting the language outside the education system.
We look forward to engaging with the Minister and Minister of State on this Bill as it goes through Committee Stage and into the Seanad. We welcome this debate and thank the Minister and Minister of State.