Tuesday, 11 May 2010
As the Deputy is aware, Foras na Gaeilge is one of the two agencies comprising An Foras Teanga, the North-South Language Body, the other being the Ulster-Scots Agency. The establishment of An Foras Teanga and other North-South Implementation Bodies represents an historic event in itself, arising from the Good Friday Agreement. Since their inception, both agencies of the language body have placed considerable emphasis on joint work to increase mutual understanding and appreciation of both cultural traditions in Northern Ireland and throughout the island. This area of activity remains a priority.
With regard to the role of Foras na Gaeilge in promoting the Irish language, let me refer to a number of its key achievements in recent years. They include the development of an accreditation system for translators, which ensures a high standard and consistency of translation for both the public and private sectors. There are currently 145 accredited translators and their details are available on the Foras na Gaeilge website, www.gaeilge.ie. Foras na Gaeilge is now rolling out a similar accreditation system for editors, the first examination for which will be held in the autumn.
Further key achievements are the provision of a memory-assisted translation tool, which will enable translations to be completed more cheaply and on a more consistent basis; provision of the terminology database www.focal.ie, which contains more than 290,000 terms that have been approved by Foras na Gaeilge's terminology committee and is searchable in both English and Irish; and work in the education sector, North and South, including funding the development of an agreed syllabus for Irish at third level. The first-year syllabus is currently in use in third level institutions throughout the island and the second-year syllabus is now in preparation.
Further achievements of Foras na Gaeilge include the organisation of the scheme Gaeilge Labhartha san Earnáil Oideachais, GLEO, which recognises and rewards best practice in the teaching of oral Irish throughout the island; the operation of youth schemes annually to promote the use of Irish outside school, including youth activities and summer camps outside the Gaeltacht, which promote the use of Irish in everyday life; and the publication, through its An Gúm division, of more than 250 resources, including textbooks, electronic materials, dictionaries and reading material for the education sector. An Gúm is working with the Department of Education and Skills to provide Séideán Sí, the first project geared towards native speakers and primary students in Gaelscoileanna. Other key points are the development of the new Irish–English dictionary, scheduled for publication in late 2012 in both electronic and hard copies, and the operation of the successful Irish in the community scheme since 2005. Currently, this scheme employs 17 development officers to promote Irish within their communities throughout the island and to encourage the use of Irish in business and marketing with a view to assisting in the normalisation of Irish in everyday life.
I will be happy to provide additional information on any specific issues that are of interest to the House.
I thank the Minister for his comprehensive reply. The list sounds impressive but I must ask whether there is evidence to confirm the efforts of Foras na Gaeilge have increased the use of the Irish language, particularly its oral use. It was recently brought to my notice that Foras na Gaeilge does not come within the remit of the Freedom of Information Act because a cross-Border body is involved. The Minister's predecessor took questions regarding Foras na Gaeilge. I am glad the Minister is continuing in that way. Given that it is a cross-Border body, are there restrictions on the information about it which can be provided to the House? To what extent is there an obligation on Foras na Gaeilge to answer correspondence from citizens?
The Deputy has answered the question about the application of the Freedom of Information Act to Foras na Gaeilge. I am anxious, as was my predecessor, to make as much information as possible available. The Deputy asked how we can respond to requests for information that are made on behalf of citizens, for example. I am prepared to explore that with Members of the House, if that would be of help. In response to the Deputy's original question, I have read comments in newspapers on the question of whether an evaluation of the work of Foras na Gaeilge, for example in respect of Irish language teaching, has been carried out. As I understand it, a great deal of research about the standard of Irish was conducted prior to the launch of the straitéis 20 bliain. Some of the findings of that research are in the public domain. The findings relating to those who have experienced the learning of Irish and the confidence of some teachers in their capacity to teach Irish do not make pleasant reading. I expect that the straitéis, which is before an Oireachtas sub-committee at the moment, will explore how we can improve that. We all have views on the things that need to be done to improve the learning and teaching of Irish. Such matters are integral to the 20-year strategy, as well as to the pleananna Gaeilge which it will be necessary to introduce and implement as soon as the strategy is in place.
Will the Minister agree that one of the objectives which Foras na Gaeilge has dismally failed to achieve in recent years is the transfer of jobs in the organisation to the Gaeltacht, specifically to my own area of Gaoth Dobhair, which was promised when the now discredited decentralisation scheme was announced in this House six or seven years ago and should have been a fait accompli by now? To be honest and to be fair to Foras na Gaeilge, that is more the fault of the Government than the fault of the foras. Does the Minister have any idea of the Government's aims in this regard? Is it still its objective to transfer some of these jobs to Gaoth Dobhair, as promised by the former Minister for Finance, Charlie McCreevy? Is it just another in a long line of broken promises from the other side of House over recent years?
I will have an opportunity to discuss some of these matters and other matters with my Northern Ireland counterpart, Nelson McCausland, later this week. I am anxious to ensure we facilitate the Deputy's wishes as much as we can and as soon as we can.