Thursday, 19 November 2020
9. To ask the Minister for Culture, Heritage and the Gaeltacht her views on amending section 9 of the Official Languages Act 2003 and the 2008 regulations to include a provision similar to that which exists in Wales, which would require public bodies to place the Irish language text in such a position as that it is likely to be read first. [37159/20]
Anyone who has read Brian Friel's play Translations will know an eviction of sorts took place in the 1840s, when the Royal Engineers came and changed the names of all logainmneacha throughout the country. He stated "a civilisation can be imprisoned in a linguistic contour which no longer matches the landscape of fact". I ask whether a similar situation to what is in Wales could be brought in here, whereby the signs are changed back to Irish.
The programme for Government acknowledges the importance of the Irish language as the first language of the State, as a living language and as a vital component of the heritage of this island. It commits to increasing the visibility of our native language and its daily use in the community and to a series of measures which will help to achieve these objectives. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I are working together to achieve these important objectives.
These measures will build on existing legislation, policies and schemes in place to support the language. In relation to the specific matter raised by the Deputy, the primary objective the Official Languages Act 2003 is to ensure the improved provision of public services through the Irish language. The Act provides for the delivery of public services in Irish in three ways. These are through provisions of the Act, which are applicable to all public bodies under the Act, through regulations made by the Minister, which again are applicable to all public bodies under the Act, and through language schemes which are agreed with individual public bodies and which provide for an increase over time in the number and standard of services provided in Irish by these individual public bodies.
I welcome the Deputy’s interest in strengthening the Irish language. As the Deputy is aware, a Bill is currently before the House with a view to strengthening the 2003 Act. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I are of the same mind that this Bill, and the amendments therein, are very important to the Irish language and that they will help to strengthen the Irish language in the State system so that high quality Irish language services will be available to the Irish speaking and Gaeltacht communities.
In relation to the specific amendment raised in the question, the measure suggested is covered by the existing provisions of SI No. 391 of 2008. Section 7(1) of this regulation provides that, in respect of stationery, the text in the Irish language shall appear first while, in respect of signage, excluding road signage which does not come within the scope of the Act, the text in the Irish language shall also appear first.
I hope this clarifies the matter. We will work constructively with every party and Member of the House. Yesterday, I spoke to the Deputy's party colleague, Deputy Ó Snodaigh, about trying to progress the official languages Bill through the House, and amendments will arise on strengthening the Bill from all Members and we will work constructively in this regard to get it right.
I thank the Minister of State for his comprehensive reply. In Scotland, the decision has been delegated to local councils so if people go through Motherwell they will see Tobar na Màthar is written at the railway station. If people drive through Wales the priority is the Welsh language. People catching the ferry will see a sign for Abertawe but they might not necessarily know it is Swansea. The Minister of State referred to SI No. 391 of 2008. The difficulty with this and road signs is that the Irish language tends to be smaller and in italics, whereas the English language is in capital letters and much bigger. For example, someone driving through east Limerick sees a sign for Oola, and this spelling is ridiculous. What really should be there is the Irish language Úlla, which means apples, and this is what should be prioritised.
I share the Deputy's view on this and we have to enhance the regulations and the underpinning legislation. The Minister, Deputy Martin, and I hope to meet the Minister for Housing, Local Government and Heritage, who has a role in the legislative context, and the Minister for Transport on how guidelines are issued for road signage. It has to be a visible language in our road signage and the Deputy has identified the issues that are there plain and simple with the example of Oola in east Limerick. I share the Deputy's concerns about this. We have to strengthen it in the context of the legislation we are progressing and the responsibilities that fall throughout Government with other Ministers who have responsibility for transport and for housing, heritage and local government. We will shortly meet with both Ministers to discuss this matter and try to provide a new context and learn from examples, and the Deputy has mentioned Scotland and other places.
In politics and language visibility is very important. The regulation in Wales states that when a new sign is being erected, a sign is being renewed, or a notice is published or displayed that conveys the same information in Welsh and English, the Welsh language text must be positioned so it is likely to be read first. This is the opposite of what happens here. I am glad I can hear the enthusiasm of the Minister of State for this. In Wales, it applies to all signs. I can flesh it out during Private Members' time if the Minister of State wishes. It can quite easily be done through changing the regulations so we do not drive through west Cork and see a sign for Snave, which is Snámh in Irish. The intention of the regulations brought in was to ensure there is an understanding of what Brian Friel spoke about regarding the topography of the area. This can be easily done through prioritising Irish.
I fully share the Deputy's view on this. We need to learn from comparative examples in our close neighbours. The Deputy referenced Wales and Scotland. We will engage with other Ministers who have regulations specifically referenced in this regard. We will also engage with the committee. We should improve this and change the current context, which in my view is not satisfactory if we want to have a living language and if it is our primary language as per the Constitution.
It is clear there is a relative inferiority on road signs and that is not positive for the language. However, with cross-government engagement and engagement across the House, we can provide changes in that regard. In the first instance, we have to engage with our colleagues and then have a discussion on the regulations. I appreciate the Deputy raising the issue.