Seanad debates

Wednesday, 21 January 2004

Recognition of the Irish Language: Motion.


5:00 pm

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Fine Gael)
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I move:

That Seanad Éireann calls on the Government to avail of the opportunity, given Ireland's Presidency of the European Union, and the fact that the accession of new members to the EU will result in a recognition of additional languages in the Union, to have the Irish language recognised as an official working language of the EU and its Institutions.

Seo díospóireacht faoi cheann de na teangacha is sine sa domhan — tá sí 2,000 bliain d'aois.

I welcome the Minister of State. I am grateful for the opportunity to debate this important issue. I also welcome the all-party support for the motion because this is the first time there has been solidarity and unity on an issue in this Seanad.

I would like to address what is indefensible about the failure to recognise Irish as an official language of the European Union. It is not excusable that Irish has been ignored for so long. All states that signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and every other state that has signed a treaty of accession since, with the exception of Ireland, have had their official languages recognised as official working languages of the EU. I will not harp on about the mistake made in 1972 but Ireland has a wonderful opportunity, through its Presidency of the EU, to make Irish a formal working language of the EU.

While preparing for the debate, I initially decided to base my argument on the cultural significance of the language. Irish is 2,000 years old and is the oldest language north of the Alps. It is part of our identity and is central to being Irish. However, as I continued my research, I realised there is much more to this debate. An intrinsic economic argument runs side by side with the cultural argument.

Irish is recognised in the Constitution as our first official language. The decision taken in 1972 to exclude Irish as an official EU language was wrong but we should move on. It is timely to act now. The new accession countries, including Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, will have their official languages recognised. The population argument is not significant. A total of 38.6 million people live in Poland compared with 380,000 in Malta. Ireland did not object to the recognition of the official languages of smaller member states, where fewer people speak the official language compared to the number of Irish people speaking Irish, according to the latest census figures.

A justifiable privilege has been conferred on the citizens of the accession countries, which has not been afforded to our citizens. The peoples of these states will have the opportunity to seek employment in the EU institutions and the laws of the Union will be provided in their languages. Their languages will become part of the workings of the Parliament and all other EU institutions. It is time we acted to redeem this inconsistency regarding the Irish language.

The process of recognising Irish as an official language does not necessarily have to involve an all or nothing scenario nor does it have to be costly. English is the primary language of the Union. The use of Irish must be practical and manageable and could be cost efficient. Eurocrats sometimes do not use common sense but they can avoid going down the road of making this an extremely costly job. Not all EU documents need to be published in Irish. The process of having Irish recognised as an official working language of the European Union is not so complicated. Allowing Irish to be recognised as an official working language of the EU is entirely a matter for the Government. All that would be required would be for the Government to move to inform the European Commission that it wishes to have Regulation 1 of the Treaty of Rome 1958 altered to include Irish as an official working language.

There would be many advantages for Ireland if Irish were recognised as an official working language. The most obvious, if not the most ideological, is employment opportunities. It is a basic EU requirement for all job candidates to have two official languages. Irish citizens who have two languages, Irish and English, do not even reach the interview stage. This is a discrimination issue and one which should be challenged. If secondary school students in Ireland were aware that it would help them to gain employment in Brussels at Commission level they would have the incentive to learn Irish. There is a growing and dangerous feeling among students and parents that Irish will not get a young person a job. Recognition of Irish would combat this negative feeling that Irish as a subject is useless for employment.

A further problem relates to Irish MEPs whose first language is Irish or who may wish to speak to the European Parliament in Irish. Fianna Fáil MEP, Seán Ó Neachtáin, who was born and lives in the Gaeltacht, needs permission and must give advance notice if he wishes to address the Parliament in Irish, despite its constitutional status as Ireland's first official language. My party colleague, Mary Banotti, was, famously, prevented from delivering her maiden speech in the European Parliament through Irish. This is not good enough. We should be proud of our national language. It is regrettable that those who genuinely want to use it at all levels of the EU are currently prevented from doing so.

In order to gain promotion in the Civil Service at an EU level one must have three working languages. Some years ago the fact that the EU accepts Irish as a language for promotion was highlighted. One needs three languages for promotion but Irish is not acceptable as a qualification for being employed in the first place.

As this motion has all-party support I will not raise the matter of broken Government promises. This evening all Members are singing from the same hymn sheet so I will not refer to that in my contribution.

On 1 May this year, there will be 21 treaty languages of the European Union but only 20 official working languages. Irish will be excluded. This is no longer acceptable. The Constitution states that Irish is the first official language — in some circumstances this has been upheld by the courts — and English is the second official language. If we are to follow the Constitution to the letter, Irish must become an official language of the EU. Ireland has more than proven itself since we joined the EEC in 1973. We have worked hard to embrace the ideals of European citizenship which clearly embraces and promotes linguistic diversity. We must now right the wrong done in 1973 and move at once to have Irish recognised as the 21st official language of the EU. Why should Ireland, an integral part of the European family, have a second class status in terms of recognition of our language within the EU?

The Irish language is 2,000 years old. I live about one mile from the Gaeltacht and spent 14 years trying my best to learn Irish but I still have difficulty in conversing in the language. Recognition of Irish as an official working language would give the impetus back to Irish speakers and would give confidence to our educators, who have kept the Irish language alive. This opportunity could be a watershed for the Irish language and failure to take it could have long-term negative implications which would be insurmountable. My colleagues in other parties will raise the matter with the Minister. It must be given priority during the six months of our Presidency.

Photo of Labhrás Ó MurchúLabhrás Ó Murchú (Fianna Fail)
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Cuidím leis an rún. Tá áthas chroí orm go bhfuil a leithéid de rún os ár gcomhair, go mórmhór toisc gur rún comh-phairtí atá ann. Tá gach seans go bhfuil sé stairiúil, fiú. B'fhéidir go mbeadh an Ceannaire in ann é sin a dheimhniú dom.

Nuair a ardaíos an cheist seo sa Seanad cúpla mí ó shin dúirt mé go bhféadfaimís é seo a dhéanamh gan deighilt, gan scoilt nó gan pholaitíocht phairtí a bheith ag baint leis. Le blianta fada anuas tá an argóint chéana amuigh, gur leis an tír an Ghaeilge agus nach le haon phairtí í. D'ardaíos an cheist mar go raibh feachtas ar siúl ag Conradh na Gaeilge, ag Comhdháil Náisiúnta na Gaeilge agus ag na heagrais Ghaeilge eile. Táimid go mór faoi chomaoin acu toisc an taighde a dhein siad ag an am. Chuir cuid de na fíricí a tháinig chun tosaigh ionadh ar an-chuid daoine go raibh an scéal amhlaidh. Gan an t-ábhar sin a bheith ar fáil dúinn bheadh an-mhíthuiscint ann ar cad a bhí i gceist maidir le stádas oifigiúil na Gaeilge mar theanga oibre san Aontas Eorpach. Táimid go mór faoi chomaoin ag na heagrais sin go bhfuil an taighde sin déanta.

Rud eile atá tar éis teacht chun tosaigh ó thosaigh an díospóireacht seo i measc an phobail is ea an dea-thoil atá ann don Ghaeilge, agus go mórmhór don fheachtas seo. Níl mé ró-chinnte go raibh an scéal amhlaidh ins na 1960í nó na 1970í ach tá an-athrú anois ar mheoin an phobail maidir leis an nGaeilge. Dá ndéanfaí suirbhé air, déarfainn go mbeadh tromlach de mhuintir na hÉireann taobh thiar den iarracht seo.

Más rud é go bhfuil tromlach de mhuintir na hÉireann taobh thiar de, caithfidh an Rialtas an treoir a thabhairt. Sin atá i gceist ins an rún seo. Iarrann an rún ar an Rialtas Uachtaránacht Aontas na hÉorpa a úsáid. Muna ndéantar é seo anois tá gach seans nach ndéanfar ariamh é. Bheadh sé truamhéilleach do gach glúin a thiocfaidh inár ndiaidh dá mbeadh sé le tuiscint acu go raibh an seans ann an stádas seo a bhaint amach ach nár baineadh tairbhe as an dea-thoil agus an tacaíocht a bhí i measc an phobail chun é a dhéanamh.

Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil na meáin cumarsáide tar éis teacht taobh thiar den iarracht seo chomh maith, rud a chuireann ionadh ar dhaoine. Bhí eagarfhocal i The Irish Times a bhí an-láidir i bhfábhar stádas oifigiúil mar theanga oibre a bhaint amach don Ghaeilge san Aontas. Lasmuigh de litir nó dhó, agus níl mórán díobh ann, níl aon fheachtas i gcoinne na hiarrachta seo. An chúis atá leis sin ná go bhfuil maitiúrachas ag baint leis an Stát anois agus go dtuigimid anois, cé go bhfuil meas idirnáisiúnta orainn mar náisiún, go laghdaítear an meas sin toisc nach bhfuil teanga oifigiúil na tíre, faoi mar atá leagtha síos san mBunreacht, á úsáid againn. Cuireann sin ceisteanna i measc na daoine eile cad é ina thaobh go bhfuil an scéal amhlaidh. Sin an argóint is láidre atá againn, go bhfuil an Ghaeilge mar an chéad theanga oifigiúil sa tír.

Tá rud níos tábhachtaí ag teacht le seo. Bhí díospóireacht againn sa Seanad le déanaí ar Bhille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. Ritheadh an Bille d'aon ghúth agus cruthaíonn sin go raibh gach éinne anseo agus sa Dáil i bhfabhar aitheantas ceart a thabhairt don Ghaeilge. Tá sár-obair déanta ag na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge leis na blianta ach is trua go raibh orthu troid i gcónaí ar son cearta a ba chóir a bheith ann ar aon nós. Níl tír eile ann a rinne íobairt chomh mór ar son féiniúlachta náisiúnta, saoirse agus aitheantas cúlturtha a bhaint amach agus a rinne tír seo. Bhaineamar neamhspleáchas amach sa chuid seo den tír agus níl aon chomhartha neamhspleáchais níos fearr ná teanga. Nach gceapfadh duine, ansin, go dtiocfadh gach cabhar agus aitheantas a thabhairt don teanga sin nuair a bhí ár Rialtas féin againn? Má fhéachann duine ar chúige Uladh i láthair na huaire, tá sé soiléir go bhfuil borradh mór i dtaobh na Gaeilge. Tá siad ansin ag faire orainn le cinntiú go mbeidh treoir ag teacht uainne.

Molaim an seasamh a ghlacann an Seanadóir McHugh ar son na Gaeilge. Cé go n-admhaíonn sé nach bhfuil ach beagán Gaeilge aige, seasann sé agus déanann sé argóintí ar son na Gaeilge i gcónaí. Is maith sin mar níl Gaeilge ar a dtoil ag gach duine sa tír agus tá muid ag iarraidh an pobal ar fad a mhealladh linn. Caithfidh siad a bheith cinnte go bhfuilimid i ndáiríre, nach dtacaíocht béil amháin atá i gceist agus nach bhfuilimid i gcónaí ag rá go bhfuilimid i bhfabhar na Gaeilge gan rud ar bith a dhéanamh. Seo seans dúinn a thaispeáint ní amháin go bhfuil muid neamhspleách ach go bhfuil muid dáiríre faoin bhféiniúlacht náisiúnta sin.

Nuair a tháinig Seán Ó Neachtáin isteach le labhairt linn, cuireadh an cheist air faoi seo agus dúirt sé nach bhfuil le déanamh ach iarratas a chur isteach. Scríobh sé litir sa nuachtán a rá an rud céanna. Más rud é go bhfuil sin amhlaidh, ba bhreá liom a cheapadh go bhfuil muid ag éisteacht le croí an phobail agus tá a fhios againn cá bhfuil an croí sin. Ní gá ach féacháint ar Fhoram na hEorpa. Bhí gach duine i láthair ansin, gach páirtí sa Seanad agus na meáin cumarsáide i bhfabhar agus anois tá seans againne an treoir mhisniúil sin a thabhairt.

Tá mé cinnte nach mbeidh diúltú ann agus go mbeidh staidéar breise déanta air seo. Tá an feachtas seo ag dul i bhfeidhm ar gach éinne agus beidh sé thar a bheith deacair é a shéanadh. Tá seans againn bheith aontaithe ar son na Gaeilge, ní amháin sa tír ach go hidirnáisiúnta freisin. Beidh meas i bhfad níos mó orainn dá mbeadh an scéal amhlaidh.

Ní bhainfidh mé leis na ceisteanna faoi fhostaíocht agus a dhath mar tá sin déanta ach seo seans le haitheantas oifigiúil a bhaint amach don teanga agus má gcabhraíonn an díospóireacht seo leis an bhfeachtas sin, beidh sár-obair agus éacht déanta againn.

Photo of Joe O'TooleJoe O'Toole (Independent)
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Tá áthas orm go bhfuil an seans agam bheith páirteach sa díospóireacht seo. Chuir mé ceist sa Teach seo cúpla mí ó shin conas a tharla nó cé a thóg an cinneadh gan iarratas a chur isteach 30 bliain ó shin agus brú a chur ar an Aontas le teanga oifigiúil a dhéanamh den Ghaelainn. Ní dhearnadh é an uair sin agus ní thuigim conas a tharla sin ach ní bhfuair mé aon fhreagra. B'fhéidir go raibh daoine ag féachaint ar an ábhar go praiciticiúil agus tháinig siad ar chinneadh go mbeadh sé thar a bheith deacair an rud seo a chur ar fáil agus nach raibh aon bhrú ar an dtreo eile.

I ndáiríre things rested so go dtí an tráth seo. Ag féacháint anois air, áfach, is deacair d'éinne seasamh ar leataobh ag féacháint ar a tharlóidh ar 1 Bealtaine, nuair a bheimid ag cur teanga s'againne ag bun na scuaine agus teangacha eile na dtíortha nua a chur chun cinn. Ní féidir cur suas le sin in aon tslí. Ní féidir d'aon duine bheith sásta leis sin agus sin an spreagadh atá ann ag an bpointe seo. Ag féachaint air go praicticiúil, níl a lán sa mhéid seo don nGaelainne í féin, cé go mbeadh sé go han-mhaith ag an cúpla céad duine a bheidh jobs for life acu, something I support not just for airport workers but for muintir na Gaeltachta agus lucht na Gaelainne, ach ní féidir linn cur i gcoinne na hargóinte gur cóir le teanga na tíre a bheith ar chomhchéim le gach teanga eile san Eorap. Sin spiorad an rúin anocht. Caithfear sin a chur ar fáil dúinn.

Ag plé an ruda, áfach agus ag féacháint ar chúrsaí bainistíochta na hEorpa, beidh sé dodhéanta an jab atá ar siúl acu le 50 teanga éagsúla san Eorap ach that is not our problem today. Tá sé soiléir domsa agus do gach duine eile nach bhfuil an dara rogha againn ach a chur leis an iarratas atá leagtha amach sa rún anocht. Caithfimid tacaíocht a thabhairt dó, bheith díograsach le brú a chur ar an Rialtas leis an iarratas a chur isteach agus caithfidh go n-éireoidh linn. Beidh meán-bhothar ar an rud seo. Ní féidir linn protocol a bhrú ar an Eorap go mbeidh an méid sin teangacha ar fáil i gcónaí ach sin a problem for Europe. Tá sé soiléir dúinn gur seo an t-iarratas a chaithfimid a chur isteach. Má tharlóidh sé de thoradh sin agus de thoradh teacht isteach tíortha nua eile go bhfuil sé dodhéanta gnáthobair riaracháin a dhéanamh in Aontas na hEorpa, níl aon fhadhb ann nach féidir a réitiú agus beidh réiteach san Eorap.

Níl sé ann anois, áfach. Tá sé dubh agus bán faoi láthair, we are either in or out, an t-aon rogha eile atá againn ná seasamh ar leataobh agus féachaint ar teangacha na dtíortha eile ag dul chun cinn agus an Ghaeilge ag bun na scuaine. Ní ghlacfaidh mé le sin. Má tá fadhb mhór ann mar gheall ar an iarratas seo, so be it. Ó thaobh muintir na Gaeltachtaí, lucht na Gaelainne agus iad siúd go bhfuil grá acu don teanga, caithfimid freagra a thabhairt dóibh go bhfuil muid ag seasamh leo ar an bpointe seo. Caithfimid a chur leis an méid atá anseo agus brú a chur ar an Rialtas agus ar an Aontas Eorpach go mbeidh an stádas céanna ag an nGaelainn agus atá ag gach teanga oifigiúil eile san AE.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Tá áthas mór ag an Pháirtí Daonlathach an tairscint seo a mholadh. Is trua liom nach mbeidh mé in ann oráid iomlán a dhéanamh as Gaeilge. I am in the same position as Senator McHugh. Having spent several years learning Irish in school and having spent several summers in Corca Dhuibhne — Senator O'Toole will know Brú na Gráige in Baile an Fheirtéaraigh — I still have a difficulty when it comes to being able to articulate properly what I want to say in Irish. Some would say I have the same difficulty in English, but that is a matter for another day.

I commend Senator McHugh for tabling this motion and I am delighted that Members from all parties have assented to it. I was very impressed by the presentation made at the National Forum on Europe by An Dochtúir Pádraig Breandán Ó Laighin agus a chairde, some of whom are in the Visitors Gallery. I refer to some of the arguments made at that forum which bear repeating. We were fortunate to have aighneacht a leagadh os comhair an Fhoraim Náisiúnta um an Eoraip i gCaisleán Baile Átha Cliath ar 8 Eanáir, "I dTreo Aitheantais don Ghaeilge mar Theanga Oifigiúil Oibre don Aontas Eorpach", which was the document presented to us by An Dochtúir Ó Laighin.

The document puts the arguments extremely well. I am sure anyone who wishes to go into it in more detail can secure the document from the forum. While I am not sure if it is available on the website it is certainly available from the secretariat of the forum. Although it is produced in both languages, I will quote from an leagan Béarla rather than an leagan Gaeilge. The window of opportunity arises because of the enlargement of the Community and what is being done for the accession states, which will become full members on 1 May. Twelve languages will be added some of which are used in small countries. There is a distinction in that we speak English well here — some would argue we speak it better than those in the country that invented the language. As part of out national identity it is important that we are able to use the language on the occasions on which we chose to do so.

Irish is of course a treaty language and treaties are required to be translated into Irish. However, until I got this document, I was not aware that it is possible to petition the European Parliament in Irish in writing and an answer will be sent in the same language. I was not aware that the same applies to the Ombudsman. The document states:

The following are the institutions (as well as Parliament), and advisory bodies which are referred to in Article 7, and which may be written to in Irish with the expectation of an answer in the same language: the Council of the European Union (Council of Ministers), the European Commission, the Court of Justice, and the Court of Auditors, and the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions.

There is an extensive range of areas where Irish can be used. It seems like a short step from that to making it more universally available as a working language. The document also states: "few people would be expected to petition Parliament, or submit a complaint to the Ombudsman, or write to the institutions and advisory bodies of the Union". While this is correct, the right exists nevertheless.

I accept the point referred to by Senator O'Toole. There is a difficulty when it comes to finding the physical space and the people to translate into all the new languages. It would have been a simpler matter up to this point. If Seán Ó Neachtáin MEP is a cainteoir ó dúchas, he should be able to speak in Irish in the European Parliament. It is reasonable to suggest that he should give reasonable notice of his intention to do so, so that rather than having the translators there on a permanent basis, they can be there when he speaks in Irish. Even if it were never translated he should be in a position to make his contribution in Irish.

I read the priorities for the Irish Presidency of the European Union yesterday. One of the sections refers to culture and emphasises the importance of cultural diversity. By extension we should state the language should be available as a working language. From that point of view I recommend that the Government should proceed in that direction.

Another section of An Dochtúir Ó Laighin's document bears quoting. It states:

Making the arrangement for Irish to be recognised as an official working language of the European Union is entirely a matter for the Irish Government. There would be no negotiation involved, apart from the timetable, perhaps. All that is necessary is that the Irish Government should inform the European Commission that they wish to have Regulation 1 modified in order to include Irish as an official working language. The amendments involved are straightforward: Irish to be entered in correct alphabetical order in Article 1 [which deals with languages], and the number of official languages in Articles 4 and 5 to be amended from 'twenty' to 'twenty-one'. The Commission would forward the appropriate amendments to the Council of the European Union, and the proposed change would receive unanimous approval.

This clearly spells out the procedure to be followed and I have no reason to believe it is not accurate.

The acquis communautaire is the corpus of European law. While I am not saying we should not go on to have Irish as a working language, at a minimum the acquis communautaire should be available in its entirety in Irish. As much of that work has been done, I do not see a particular difficulty with that. While I mentioned the logistical problems with people speaking Irish in the European Parliament, no such problems exist in dealing with correspondence and having the acquis communautaire in Irish. It is evident that one or two competent people would be able to do that over a period of time. I also recommend this to the Government.

I am pleased to support the motion and I hope this debate will lead to some progress and eventually lead to the adoption of Irish as a working language within the European Union.

Photo of Brendan RyanBrendan Ryan (Labour)
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Caithfear a bheith cúramach nuair a moltar rún i gceachtar Teach den Oireachtas go bhfuil ainmneacha ceannairí na ngrúpaí go léir curtha leis. Ar an ocáid seo, glacaim go bhfuil muid go léir i ndáiríre agus nach bhfuil gníomhaíocht ciniciúil i gceist mar gheall ar na hainmneacha atá leis an rún. Aithním ón chleachtadh atá agam leo agus ón mhéid oibre agus an méid atá ráite acu go bhfuilimid go léir dáiríre. D'fhéadfadh an tAire seasamh suas agus focal amháin a rá linn, agus d'fhéadfaimis go léir dul abhaile. Níl le déanamh ach iarraidh ar an Aontas Eorpach, agus chaithfí glacadh leis an Ghaelainn mar theanga oifigiúil. Níl mé sásta éisteacht le hargóintí faoi seo. Tá sé soiléir go bhfuil sé de cheart ag tír ar bith go n-aithnítear teanga a úsáidtear go forleathan sa tír mar theanga oifigiúil. Tá gearán, mar shampla, ag muintir Catalonia, nach bhuil an Chatalóinis aitheanta, ach is ceist pholaitiúil é seo faoin dtír sin — faoi dearcadh lár na tíre nó an dearcadh lárnach agus an dearcadh a ghlacann le hiolrachas sa tír. Tá an díospóireacht agus mar sin de ar siúl fós sa Spáinn. Níl sé réitithe ina iomlán fós. Ós rud é nach bhfuil sé réitithe, is cosúil nach bhfuil pé rialtas atá i gceannas sa Spáinn ag glacadh leis go n-aithneofaí an teanga, atá ar an seachtú teanga is mó atá in úsáid san Aontas Eorpach. Sin figiúr a fuaras amach tráthnóna, ach níl mé anseo chun caint faoi ach amháin le rá go bhfuil sé de dhualgas nó de cheart ag rialtas tíre an cinneadh seo a dhéanamh agus a rá go dteastaíonn sé uainn. Nuair a bhíomar mar bhaill nua ag dul isteach den gcéad uair, cosúil le gach éinne ag dul isteach in eagraíocht nua, bhí cuid mhaith bainte amach againn ó thaobh talmhaíochta agus rudaí eile de, agus feictear dom nach rabhamar sásta an chuma a bheith orainn go rabhamar ag lorg a thuilleadh agus a thuilleadh aríst.

Tá an saol athraithe anois, áfach, agus athrófar i bhfad níos mó é nuair a thagann deich dtír eile isteach. Tá a fhios agam go bhfuil sé ráite cheana féin go mbeidh teangacha anois mar theangacha oifigiúla san Aontas Eorpach nach labhartar níos forleithne ná an Ghaelainn — go bhfuil an Ghaelainn ar aon chéim nó leibhéal leo maidir le cé chomh forleathan is a labhartar iad. Beidh an oiread céanna daoine sa tír a bhfuil cumas labhartha acu agus an stádas céanna mar theanga taobh istigh den tír. Cosnaíonn sé beagán, mar shampla, go bhfuil córas aistriúchán comhuaineach sa Tigh seo, ach glacann gach éinne leis go bhfuil sé de cheart agus de dhualgas againn go mbeadh a leithéid ar fáil. Is cuimhin liom, sular cuireadh tús le TG4, nó TnaG mar a bhíodh mar ainm air, go mbíodh daoine ó am go ham ag iarraidh ceist pholaitiúil a dhéanamh as. Chuir siad an cheist arbh fhiú an t-airgead sin a chaitheamh. Bhí baill de dhá Theach an Oireachtais d'aon ghuth, tríd an speictream iomlán, go raibh sé ceart go mbeadh córas teilifíse againn ina mbeadh an Ghaelainn á húsáid mar phríomhtheanga. D'éirigh sé sin, mar bhí an t-éileamh ann. Bhí an lucht féachana ann, agus bhí an cumas ag daoine cláracha fiúntacha a dhéanamh arbh fhéidir le gnáthdhaoine taitneamh a bhaint astu.

Glacaimid go léir anois go bhfuil ceithre chainéal teilifíse sa tír seo agus go bhfuil rogha níos forleithne againn mar gheall air sin. Caithfear bheith cinnte cad is brí le teangacha oifigiúla. Bhíos ag féachaint ar an Idirlíon, mar a dhéanaimid go léir agus muid ag lorg eolais faoi rud ar bith. Chonacas suíomh amháin, agus an sainmhíniú a bhí ar "official language" ná "a language which citizens must use when addressing the institutions of the European Union". Is é atá á rá faoi láthair ná go gcaithfimidne ceann de na teangacha seo a leanas a labhairt — Fraincís, Spáinnis, Portaingéilis, Béarla, Gearmáinis agus mar sin de. Caithfimid ceann díobh siúd a úsáid, ach níl cead againn labhairt le hinstitiúid an Aontas Eorpaigh trí Ghaelainn. Pé argóintí a bhí ann faoi acmhainní nó faoi chostais, is seanargóintí iad, mar tá an córas ag athrú, agus tá teangacha le cur isteach sa chóras aistriúcháin agus dleathúil san Aontas Eorpach atá níos laige ná an Ghaelainn. Bímid ró-éadóchasach i gcónaí faoin Ghaelainn sa tír seo, agus is féidir féachaint ar rudaí nach bhfuil chomh maith is a bhídís. Ar an dtaobh eile, is féachaint ar rudaí a thaispeánann go bhfuil an teanga láidir fós agus go bhfuil sé soiléir gurbh é toil an phobail sa tír seo go mbeadh an teanga láidir go buan. Níl mé cinnte conas mar a bheadh sí, ach beidh an Ghaelainn beo sa tír seo 100 bliain ón lá inniu. Tá toil an phobail soiléir anois, pé slí ina déantear é, go mbeidh an teanga á úsáid fós. Ní fheadar an mbeidh Gaeltachtaí ann nó nach mbeidh, ach beidh pobail ann a labhraíonn Gaelainn eatarthu féin. Sin mar a bheidh sé, agus sin toil an phobail. D'éirigh le pobal na tíre seo é sin a dhéanamh, mar bhí an Ghaelainn ag meá nuair a fuaireamar ár saoirse. D'ainneoin achan ruda — agus deineadh a lán botún — tá níos mó daoine anois ábalta Gaelainn a labhairt ná mar a bhí ábalta 50, 60 nó 70 bliain ó shin. Tá níos mó daoine ann atá sásta Gaelainn a labhairt ná mar a bhí ábalta 50, 60 nó 70 bliain ó shin. Is éard atá á lorg againn anois ná go n-aithneofaí an mionlach sin — mionlach sa tír seo agus mionlach beag san Eoraip — a bhfuil sé de cheart aige an teanga sin a úsáid os comhair agus i measc institiúidí na hEorpa. Mar sin, molaim an rún, agus iarraim ar an Rialtas deireadh a chur leis an argóint seo trí rá le hinstitiúidí na hEorpa go mba cheart an reachtaíocht a athrú faoi theangacha oifigiúla chun teanga oifigiúil na tíre seo a thabhairt isteach mar theanga oifigiúil san Eoraip.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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Tá áthas orm seans a bheith agam labhairt ar an rún seo. Ar an gcéad dul síos, ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a rá leis an Seanadóir Labhrás Ó Murchú as an méid oibre atá déanta aige agus na hargóintí atá curtha aige le blianta ag iarraidh go mbeadh an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas Eorpach. Is dócha go bhfuil muid go léir aontaithe sa Teach seo mar gheall ar an rún seo. Bhí mé féin an-sásta go raibh an Feisire Eorpeach, Seán Ó Neachtáin sa Teach seo cúpla mí ó shin roimh an Nollaig ag caint ar an cheist seo. Is duine ón Ghaeltacht é agus is í an Ghaeilge a theanga dúchais. Dúirt sé ag an chruinniú anseo gur cheart go mbeadh an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil agus gur ghá don Rialtas iarraidh ar an Aontas Eorpach é sin a dhéanamh. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann é sin a dhéanamh agus go mbeidh an Rialtas i bhfabhar an rúin. Tá an tAontas bunaithe ar éagsúlacht chultúrtha, agus beidh an éagsúlacht sin le feiceáil tar éis shéadú an Aontais i mí na Bealtaine seo chugainn. Beidh ar a laghad 20 teanga oifigiúil san Aontas ag an am sin. Is ceart go mbeidh an Ghaeilge ina measc fosta. Chuir an Seanadóir O'Toole ceist tábhachtach faoi na hargóintí a bhí ann 30 bliain ó shin nuair a chuaigh muid isteach san Aontas. B'fhéidir go ndearnadh dearmad faoin Ghaeilge ag an am céanna le cúrsaí iascaireachta, fadhb ar a bhfuil muid ag caint le 30 bliain anuas.

Tá sé praicticiúil agus réadúil go mbeadh an Ghaeilge mar theanga oifigiúil san Aontas agus tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann sin a bhaint amach. Bhí Seanadóir ó Murchú ag caint ar na postanna a bheidh ar fáil sna hinstitiúidí leis na haistritheoirí breise ach is é an cultúr an argóint is fearr ina thaobh seo.

In addition to mentioning Seán Ó Neachtáin MEP, I should also mention another man from An Spidéal, Councillor Pól Ó Foighíl, who was elected to Galway County Council some years ago. He is still a councillor and will contest the local elections this year. When he was first elected to the council, on which I served with him for some years, he wanted to speak in Irish at the meetings but discovered there was no translation service. Furthermore, many councillors objected to him speaking in Irish because they said they did not understand it.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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Sin an duine a fuair an córas aistriúcháin istigh anseo.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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Rinne sé sin agus bhí an córas sin sa Dáil le blianta fada fosta. However, Councillor Ó Foighíl succeeded. I was glad because it is important that the Gaeltacht, a large part of which is in County Galway, is represented in that way. Native speakers are involved in local politics as well as national politics.

We should also bear in mind areas outside the Gaeltacht where there is great support for the Irish language. The gaelscoileanna movement has been particularly positive in that regard. I received a magazine from the CEO of the movement before Christmas. The magazine contains photographs and articles from many of the 180 all-Irish schools and colleges nationwide. It celebrates the growth of the all-Irish school movement over the past 30 years and includes contributions from President McAleese, singer Moya Brennan, actor Stephen Rea, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, gaelscoileanna president Dónal Ó hAiniféin and politicians whose families are involved in gaelscoileanna.

Before the last general election there was a strong campaign in the town of Ballinasloe to have the gaelscoil moved onto the Department's building programme and there was much criticism that an election pledge had been broken. Gaelscoil Uí Cheithearnaigh in Ballinasloe is now included in the 2004 building programme. That demonstrates the commitment of the Government to parents, teachers and students who are anxious to have a gaelscoil in their community.

Since my election to the Seanad, I have noticed a great deal more debate is conducted in the Irish language in this Chamber than in the Dáil. The Seanad has debated Bille na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2002 and there have been debates on Irish culture, music and tradition in addition to this debate on the Irish language. Yesterday's foreign affairs committee meeting was attended by representatives of the British foreign affairs committee and I noticed that many of the members of the Oireachtas committee started their contributions in Irish by simply saying "céad míle fáilte" or one hundred thousand welcomes. However, I am from east Galway where one is given the fáilte Uí Cheallaigh, which is the most generous of welcomes. It has impoverished many members of the Kelly clan.

John Dardis (Progressive Democrats)
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We will drink to that.

Photo of Michael KittMichael Kitt (Fianna Fail)
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We did not use Irish to try to bamboozle our friends from the House of Commons but when we can use the language in a committee or in the Oireachtas, we should be able to use it officially in the European Parliament where we have played such a significant role over the years.

The motion before the House is excellent and I compliment the Members on putting it forward. I hope our efforts are successful. As Conradh na Gaeilge puts it, ní gá ach é a iarraidh.

6:00 pm

Photo of James BannonJames Bannon (Fine Gael)
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Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire. The motion can be summed up in one concept, that of identity. On one hand we have our national identity, an innate sense of being Irish, and on the other there is our collective identity as part of the European Union. While the emblem of any nation's identity is its flag, its distinct and separate identity is its language.

For many centuries the Irish language was part of the cultural fabric of continental Europe. It was the language of scholars, soldiers and politicians. It was also the language of ordinary individuals. In County Longford, between 200 and 300 years ago, people were evicted by their landlords because they did not understand English. Irish was the natural language of rural Ireland in addition to the Gaeltacht areas of that era. Sadly, after next May, Irish will be the only one of 21 European languages without official status in Europe. This must be rectified and I hope the Minister will take on board the contributions by Members tonight and ensure that happens.

In May, nine new languages, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Slovene and Maltese, will become official languages of the EU alongside English, Danish, Swedish, Spanish, French, Italian, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Greek and German. In 1972, the Irish Government said it did not want Irish to become an official and working language of the European Community, giving the reason that the translation work would present serious practical difficulties. Every country which signed the Treaty of Rome in 1957 and every country that signed a treaty of accession since then, with the exception of Ireland, has had its official language recognised.

Over 30 years after Ireland's accession, this Government is still ignoring the views of the fluent Irish speakers of this country despite the gathering momentum of gaelscoileanna. I compliment the great job the gaelscoileanna movement is doing in County Longford. The movement is laying the foundation for a new generation of Irish speakers. The Government is failing to act at this opportune time to give the Irish language the prominence and status it deserves. What is the point of teaching Irish to our children and encouraging its propagation when the Government will not support its promotion to official European status?

Ireland's Presidency of the EU, allied with the accession of nine new states and the recognition of nine new languages, is an ideal chance for the Government to rectify the omission of Irish from the official functions of the Union. Ireland did not object to the recognition of official language status being granted to languages with fewer speakers than Irish. There is also no evidence that this country complained that it would cost too much to increase the number of official languages next May. The new countries are delighted with this decision and they will gain advantages which the Government is denying our citizens.

The other member states do not object and are not putting obstacles in Ireland's way with regard to the recognition of Irish. The problem seems to be one of inaction on the part of the Government. The non-official status of Irish within the EU and its institutions relegates Ireland to the position of being the only member state not to have its first official language recognised. Our MEPs cannot address at will the European Parliament in Irish. The knock-on effects of this non-recognition mean that Irish speakers applying for a job in Brussels cannot claim Irish as their required second European language. So much for the chances of Irish speaking graduates. For each new official language the EU will engage 110 new translators and 40 new interpreters. If Irish was included, new employment opportunities would be available for Irish speakers. Perhaps the Minister could explain what is stopping him from acting on the Gaeltacht commission's finding that Irish should be an official EU language. Promotion of the Irish language and the refusal to promote its recognition in Europe is symptomatic of the Government's record of giving with the one hand and taking away with the other.

Ireland's Presidency of the EU should be a time of advancement both for ourselves and the Union. I spoke earlier about the flag being the emblem of a country and its language representing its unique and separate identity. Over the next six months I would like Ireland to promote its first language and for Irish to take its place among the languages of Europe. As regards the Union, I would like our children to gain a greater sense of their European identity through its promotion in our schools. Every school should fly the European flag not only during the months of our Presidency, but as a permanent reminder of our European status. Europe is our future and we must do everything we can to foster a sense of pride in our membership of the Union among our young people. Pride in our Irish heritage and in membership of the EU should be the message for the next six months.

At the last executive meeting of the Local Authority Members' Association, which represents every local authority in the country, a resolution was passed encouraging the Government to ensure Irish is adopted as a European language. Senator Jim Walsh, as chairman of the Confederation of European Councillors, promoted and encouraged the use of the Irish language at every opportunity given to him, whether he was speaking to Democratic Unionist councillors in Northern Ireland or to political alliances in Slovenia or Slovakia. I compliment him on that and I hope it continues.

I hope the Minister will take the views of the Members here this evening on board over the next couple of months. I await his response.

Photo of Ann OrmondeAnn Ormonde (Fianna Fail)
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Tá brón orm nach bhfuil mórán Gaeilge agam. Chaill mé a lán den Ghaeilge a bhí agam ach tá suim agam sa teanga agus tá mé ag freastal ar rang le feabhas a chur uirthi. Senator Ryan was the only person I understood this evening because he spoke my Irish. I am glad it is still in the back of my mind. He has encouraged me to continue speaking it.

I went to the forum two weeks ago where this topic was raised by Dr. Pádraig Breandán Ó Laighin. I read the document he produced. It is shocking that Irish is not recognised as an official language in Europe. We have a golden opportunity to put that right during our Presidency given that a number of new states will be joining the EU and that a number of new languages will be recognised. There should not be any difficulty in that regard. I understand the process is simple in that a regulation must be modified and put to the Commission. I will do everything in my power to move that along.

I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak, although I was a bit shy at the start because I thought everyone would speak in Irish. I am ashamed given that Irish was part of my upbringing. I attended Ring College for a long time, yet I am not able to speak Irish as beautifully as others did this evening. I apologise for that.

As a member of the forum and of this House, I will do everything possible to promote the Irish language. Gaelscoileanna are mushrooming throughout the country. We have the opportunity to put it right now. The reason it was not considered before was that it was difficult to find jobs which used the Irish language. French was a better language to learn. However, if Irish is recognised as an official language, it will have a big impact on the economy. It will also allow us to identify with our culture. That is why we should endorse the use of Irish as an official language. We have the opportunity to do that now.

I am delighted to speak this evening in English, but I hope I will have another opportunity to express my views in Irish when I am fluent. I support the joint motion.

Photo of Tom KittTom Kitt (Minister of State, Department of Foreign Affairs; Dublin South, Fianna Fail)
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Tá sé tábhachtach go bhfuilimid ag machnamh ar an gceist seo anocht — stádas na Gaeilge san Aontas Eorpach. Agus táimid ag plé na ceiste taobh istigh de réim úr i stair na hEorpa — an conradh bunreachtúil nua atá faoi chaibidil i láthair na huaire, an fairsingiú a bheidh ann ag tús Bealtaine agus deich dtír úr ag teacht isteach san Aontas, agus, dar ndóigh, Uachtaránacht an Aontais a bheith againn anseo in Éirinn faoi láthair.

I join those Senators whose Irish did not match the beautifully spoken Irish I heard tonight from many Senators. Níl sí agam ón gcliabhán, mar a deirtear, ach cosúil leis an Seanadóir Michael Kitt, is as Gaillimh mé agus nuair a bhí ag éisteacht leis an Seanadóir Ó Murchú agus Baill eile bhí sé go hálainn. I will continue as Béarla, but, like Senator Ormonde, that does not lessen my interest in the language or in this debate. Perhaps it is time for people like me to go back to Connemara, which I plan to do. This debate highlights the need for all of us to continue to improve our Irish.

The debate was a good one, as are all debates on important issues in this House. I am always privileged to be here. I listened carefully to the points made and I will do my utmost to clarify the Government's position. Some questions were raised which I will try to address.

I confirm to the House that it remains the Government's policy to monitor developments with a view to availing itself of any appropriate opportunity which may arise to enhance the status of Irish in the European Union. The Government is committed to continuing with this policy. To that end. there are ongoing discussions between my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. We are analysing all the options available to us and, in pursuit of that, we will enter into further discussions at an early date.

Senator O'Toole asked about the background to this debate. Many Members and those who are here to listen to the debate are aware of the history behind this issue. The status of Irish in the European Union was determined by a letter of 23 July 1971 from the then Minister for Foreign Affairs to the President of the European Council outlining the Government's views and by the Community's response to that letter, which is reflected in the accession treaty. The draft constitutional treaty under consideration at the Intergovernmental Conference would fully maintain that position. The position is that the Irish language has the status of a treaty language in the European Union. That derives from the fact that the treaties are published in Irish and that in the treaties Irish is listed as one of the languages in which the text is authentic. Each successive treaty is published in Irish as well as in the 11 other languages, with the texts in Irish having equivalent authenticity and status with those in all other languages.

Article 217 of the EC treaty provides for the establishment of the Union's language regime. The Article stipulates that:

The rules governing the languages of the Institutions of the Community shall, without prejudice to the provisions contained in the Rules of Procedure of the Court of Justice, be determined by the Council acting unanimously.

On the basis of this Article, Regulation 1-1958 establishes the official and working languages of the Union, which do not include Irish. The status of the Irish language in the EU is unique. It is not one of the 11 official and working languages of the institutions. However, the provision made for the publication of the treaties in an authentic Irish language version confers a particular Union status which sets Irish apart from, for example, Luxembourgish, which has no Union status. The IGC discussions on the draft treaty, and the discussions at the Convention which preceded the IGC, were not an appropriate forum for debate on enhancing the status of Irish. The "working languages" regime of the EU is dealt with in secondary law, in this case through Council Regulation 1-1958. The IGC discussions concern treaty change which is a matter of primary legislation. Nevertheless, the treaty status of the Irish language and the rights established in the Treaties of Amsterdam and Nice respectively, will be fully maintained in the new treaty. The Treaty of Amsterdam confirmed the right of citizens of the Union to correspond with any of the institutions in any of the treaty languages. A declaration adopted in conjunction with the Treaty of Nice calls for a response to any such correspondence to be made within a reasonable period. These steps represented positive and practical moves forward for Irish which is the only language, apart from those specified in Council Regulation 1-1958, to which these rights apply.

In 2002 the European Commission recommended in the enlargement negotiations that each of the national languages of the ten accession countries be made an official and working language. This was agreed in the accession negotiations. Consequently, with the accession of ten new member states, nine more languages will be recognised as official and working languages on 1 May 2004. The accession treaty 2003 includes a provision automatically modifying Council Regulation 1-1958. The Commission will not, therefore, ask the Council separately to amend the regulation. Any alteration in the official status of the Irish language, or any other language, other than the provisions resulting directly from the enlargement negotiations, would have to come about through an amendment to Regulation 1-1958 using the normal procedures provided in the EC treaty. This would include a Commission proposal to this effect, as several Senators said. Ireland has ratified the accession treaty, having deposited its instrument of ratification on 18 December 2003. Half of the instruments of ratification have already been deposited. The question of re-opening the terms of the accession treaty does not arise for Ireland or any other member state.

The Commission's proposal during the accession negotiations in May 2002, to recognise Maltese as an authentic language of the treaties and an official and working language used by the EU institutions has been the focus of recent attention and was mentioned here tonight. The Commission proposed this on the basis, inter alia, that the Maltese language is used by all Maltese institutions, including the parliament, the government and the courts, as well as for administrative purposes, and it is the mother tongue of almost all Maltese people.

The detailed practical consequences of enlargement for the Union's interpretation regime for official negotiations concluded in December 2003 under the Italian Presidency. Member states considered many approaches for the conduct of future meetings in a Union of 25. An underlying theme of the discussions was that the Union needs to streamline its interpretation regime. However, there was an equally strong sense that the full participation of member states in running the Union, and taking decisions in which they are entitled to share, should be facilitated. The outcome of negotiations broadly preserved this important balance. On a separate issue, many of our partners regard member states, most of whose citizens have English as their spoken tongue, as distinctly privileged by the arrangements in place.

The approach agreed by member states entails an increased number of working group meetings in Brussels taking place without any interpretation provision. In practice these groups, which will meet at official level, will work in English and French only. This new regime limits the number of working groups which will have full interpretation services and will put a system of payment for interpretation services in place for the remainder of working groups. This agreement, which has been finalised, is limited to existing official and working languages for which the personnel and infrastructure are in place.

There have also been calls on the Government to request the Commission and the Council of Ministers to amend Regulation 1-1958 which establishes the official and working languages of the Union. The normal procedure for the amendment of secondary law, such as Regulation 1-1958, requires that any proposal for amendment must be made by the Commission. In other words, for the status of Irish to be changed, the Commission would have to propose to the Council an appropriate amendment of the regulation and the Council would have to agree this unanimously. In making any proposal, the Commission could be expected to draw on the considerations it has applied in the past and the member states would expect a consistent approach.

The Government has consistently taken any appropriate opportunity to enhance the standing of Irish in the European Union, and has achieved this in several respects, including the following: the Treaty of Amsterdam in 1996 confirmed the right of citizens of the Union to correspond with any of the institutions in any of the treaty languages; a declaration adopted in conjunction with the Treaty of Nice in 2001 calls for a response to any such correspondence to be made within a reasonable period; and the Irish representatives at the European Convention which negotiated the draft constitutional treaty ensured that these rights will be maintained. Furthermore, at our request, an Irish language version of the draft constitutional treaty agreed at the European Convention was also prepared. LINGUA, the Union's programme for the promotion of language teaching and learning, recognises the Irish language for its projects. Most recently, and this was mentioned this evening, the Government has taken steps to enhance the standing of the Irish language in the context of the reform of the staff regulations for EU officials. Under revised staff regulations due to be agreed shortly, and as a result of an Irish initiative a new requirement for officials to demonstrate before their first promotion the ability to work in a third language extends not only to official and working languages but also to Irish. In this regard, Irish is the only language that is not an official and working language which will be taken into account. This will mean that officials who reach the required standard in Irish can directly benefit in terms of promotional prospects.

The Government remains fully willing to build on these advances and to take practical steps as appropriate. Further discussions between Departments will take place in this spirit and will result, I hope, in the identification of additional opportunities to enhance the status of Irish in the European Union. It could take some time to identify such steps and explore them with the EU institutions, although I wish to advance this as quickly as possible. I take careful note of the debate here but caution Senators that it is unrealistic to expect concrete outcomes during our Presidency. However, by setting realistic goals and demonstrating their practical purposes, we can make the most credible case for the enhancement of the status of the Irish language in the EU.

Various Senators made very strong cases here tonight in beautiful Irish and I thank them for that. I have listened carefully to the points made which I will note to ensure that they are included in the discussions between my Department and the Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs. I thank the Senators for a very timely and useful debate. Cuirim fáilte roimh an díospóireacht seo. Leiríonn sé an spéis atá againn uile sa teanga. Tá súil agam go mbeimid in ann an t-ábhar tábhachtach seo a chur an chinn chomh luath agus is féidir.

Jim Higgins (Fine Gael)
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Phléamar an cheist seo ag Foram Náisiúnta um an Eoraip coicís ó shin agus bhí díospóireacht iontach againn. Tháinig An Dochtúir Pádraig Breandán Ó Laighin ós comhair an fhoraim agus thug sé tuarascáil mhaith chuimsitheach dúinn. Is léir ón dtuarascáil sin go ndearnadh an-bhotún i 1972 nuair nár chuir an tír seo iarratas isteach go n-aithneofar ár dteanga oifigiúil mar theanga oibre oifigiúil don Chomhphobal. Tá rudaí mar atá siad faoi láthair agus caithfimid an botún sin a leigheas anois.

Tá seans iontach againn. Tá Uachtarántacht an Aontais againn agus is iontach an ocáid don tír é sin. Is é an tUachtarántacht sin an t-am is feiliúnaí le leasú a dhéanamh go dtí go n-aithneofar an teanga mar theanga oibre oifigiúil. Tá muid ag tabhairt isteach deicht dtír nua san Aontas. Nuair a fhéachann duine ar na tíortha nua sin, tá cuid acu an-mhór le daonraí an-mhóra agus tá cuid acu an-bheag, an Málta mar shampla, ina bhfuil daonra 300,000. Tá teanga an Mhálta aitheanta mar theanga oifigiúil. Níl aon leithscéal ag an Rialtas sa gceist seo agus is léir go bhfuil an chumhacht ag an Rialtas á dhéanamh má tá an meon aige.

We had an excellent and comprehensive debate on this matter in the Forum for Europe a fortnight ago. Nobody could fail to be impressed by the paper Dr. Breandán Ó Laighin put before the forum. He set out the arguments clearly, along with the background and the history, as the Minister did tonight. He also noted that this is a matter for national government, which depends on the Government's appetite to make it happen.

Now is the time to make it happen. I do not think anyone would object. The Presidency of the EU is a marvellous opportunity. The Minister set out the procedures involved, regarding the Commission, the Council and so on, but in deference to our Presidency and to the fact that our language is left out, I could not see how there could be any objection from the EU.

Let us consider the accession countries. The Estonian language will be recognised, as will Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Polish, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian and Hungarian. The glaring omission is Irish. There will be 20 official working languages, the only exception being for Cyprus. There is a very valid case for that since Greek is the official language of Cyprus, although the Turks control a large part of the island.

Regarding population, Estonia, for example, has a population of 1.4 million while Ireland has almost four million. Slovenia has 1.9 million. Malta has a population of 380,000. The Minister notes that the Maltese language is the official language in reports on all state and semi-state operations in Malta. In Ireland, however, it is enshrined in our Constitution that Irish is the first official language. As has been said repeatedly on both sides of the House, and in the National Forum on Europe, language is central to our identity and we are extremely proud of it. Irish is on the march again, undergoing a complete rejuvenation. The number of gaelscoileanna has increased throughout the country. Just as all aspects of Irish culture are on the march again, the Irish language is making a decisive comeback. There is no excuse for not making it an official EU working language.

As Irish is an official working language at the European Court of Justice, why can it not be accepted as such in the EU itself? As stated in Dr. Breandán Ó Laighin's excellent report, what is needed is a series of amendments. The Irish Government should immediately inform the EU Commission that it wishes to have Regulation 1 of Article 290 of the Treaty of Rome modified in order to have the Irish language recognised. The number of official languages must be increased from 20 to 21. That can be done by modifying the 1958 regulation, Articles 4 and 5. I am at a loss to know why this was not done in 1972 but there is no reason why it cannot be done during the Irish EU Presidency. I am somewhat taken aback at the statement by the Minister of State that he does not want to heighten our expectations, that it cannot be done during the EU Presidency. I have not heard any valid reason why it cannot. We have a Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs whose specific duty is to look after these areas, central to which is the welfare of the language. That Minister will be sitting as chairman of his particular Council of Ministers, and there is no reason why a motion should not be brought forward and adopted at an early stage. There will be no opposition from Europe and the Minister will have the eternal gratitude of all sides of the House, as well as that of the Irish language movement.

Photo of Ulick BurkeUlick Burke (Fine Gael)
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Gabhaim buíochas leis an Seanadóir Higgins as ucht cúpla noiméid a thabhairt dom. Tá náire orainn go léir nach mbaintear úsáid as an Ghaeilge níos minice sa Teach seo agus sa Dáil. In a way it is hypocritical of us all as parliamentarians in both Houses to ask for Irish to be recognised as an official language at European level, because we have made very little use of it. It was only at local level sna coistí gairmoideachais agus sna coistí condae i dTír Chonaill, i nGaillimh, i Maigh Eo, i gCiarraí, san Mhí agus i bPort Láirge a úsáidtear í.

Apart from that, we are making very little effort, and we are all to blame. There are several reasons Irish should be an official EU language. As Senator Higgins said, it is not today but long since that Irish should have been so established, if we were serious about it. Bhí an tAire Ó Cuív sa Teach seo sa bhfomhar agus thóg sé Bille trí Ghaeilge amháin. If the Minister was sincere in promoting Irish, he would have encouraged all of us to use the cúpla focal here and there in the discussion that took place. Were it not for TG4 and Radio na Gaeltachta, the Irish language would be dead and gone. Never mind Conradh na Gaeilge — its members have been purists regarding the language, which is why a great deal of damage has been done to it. People are afraid to use Irish because they are criticised for their grammar or word usage.

Fianna Fáil has now come on board. Despite the many requests that we in the Seanad have made to have this motion put before the House, we now have it as an all-party motion, which I welcome. It is to be put to the Government, which will have no option but to consider it.

To justify this demand, we must make an effort to use Irish in the Chamber. Even if we were to conduct our business in Irish for only one day per month or year, we would make progress and possibly develop it from there. This is necessary and would add substance to the request in the motion before us by lending us credibility which the House will not be given unless Senators are heard to speak Irish.

Nuair a bhí Seanadóir Pól Ó Foighíl as iarthair na Gaillimhe ina bhall den Seanad, he insisted on speaking only Irish in the House to highlight the neglect of our language and that every vote be called in Irish. The translation facility under our desks was installed as a result of his endeavours. He also insisted on Galway County Council that everybody, regardless of whether one liked it, had to listen to him in Irish and if one wanted to understand him, one had to put on headphones and listen to the translation. If we had such determination and support for the Irish language in this and the other House, we could show much greater determination in getting Irish accepted as an official language of the European Union. Our credibility is at stake on this issue, which successive Governments have neglected since 1972.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Tá áthas orm bheith sa Teach anocht mar Cheannaire an tSeanaid and I have the distinction and pleasure of speaking to this motion. The Seanad is particularly suited to an all-party motion such as this one. To give credit where it is due and without wishing to show any sense of animosity, having checked the records in the Seanad Office, I found that Senator Ó Murchú first raised this matter in the House during the previous session when it received enthusiastic support from all the Opposition parties. In turn, the Government parties enthusiastically support this motion presented during Fine Gael Private Members' time. The reason the House is suited to a motion of this nature is that we can, in a spirit of consensus and by pulling together, debate an issue of major importance for this country.

We need to ask who did what in 1971. It is rather like a Hercules Poirot mystery. My belief is that an insufficient number of people did anything on this issue. Lest anybody think I have been in the Houses for so long, I was not in public life at the time — bhí mé múinteoir — and the decision in question and its significance passed me by. I believe that in the melée as we rushed towards accession and argued the merits of what we were giving and gaining from it, the important question of having Irish made an official working language — it is an official language — was abrogated.

I pay tribute to the Minister of State at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Not an issue of importance has been raised in this Chamber which he has not been prepared to come to the House to address when asked to do so. He has always given his best to debates. Senators will have noted from his contribution that the issue here is the use of Irish as a working language in the EU and this is what the motion is about.

While we accept that what appeared initially to have been a blanket lack of coverage has been ameliorated in the meantime, progress has not been sufficient. We should adopt this issue as a totem for the next six months. While the issues raised in the other House are not our business, having begun the crusade in this House, the matter should be taken up by the Dáil. The Forum on the Future of Europe gave us a lead and we have taken up the baton. It is now a matter for the other House to progress the matter.

There appears to be considerable goodwill in Europe on this issue. Why should this not be the case? We have proven over the years that we are good Europeans. We have taken, but we have also given. Those who point to everything we have received from Europe overlook that we were essentially real Europeans in the fullest meaning of the term and that we participated in debates, assented to change and made our point of view known. Having attended meetings of the Council of Ministers for years, there is no doubt we exerted considerable influence.

The Taoiseach will be playing a significant role on this and other issues. The question is where do we go from here. I am sure the Minister of State will see fit to press this issue and I intend to clearly state the wish of the House to the Taoiseach at a meeting next week. I believe he will do us proud, as is already the case in other areas, by making progress on the motion.

We should conduct some of our business in Irish. In case Senators think I was a poor student of Irish, I was awarded honours in leaving certificate Irish and first arts in Irish but I was never good at speaking it. I went on, however, to do other things, which is the reason I cannot address the House in Irish. Members have an opportunity to enrol in an excellent service in the Houses to become adept again in the language. I have signed up for it as an indication of good faith.

Although this issue may not be regarded as important in the labyrinth of power that is Europe, it is extremely important. The European project was founded on the basis of co-operation, ending warfare, ensuring countries would work together and giving big and small countries an equal voice. In meetings of the Council of Ministers I was always struck by the fact that I was as important as the Transport Minister of Germany or any other member state. Given that member states have an equal voice regardless of size, we should emphasise the importance of this issue. Now that we hold the Presidency, with member states flocking here rather than vice versa,we have an opportunity to do so as it gives added potency to the question, which we should use to the full.

While former Senator Pól Ó Foighíl was an excellent public representative, I do not want to take a confrontational approach. Our aim is to ensure that Irish becomes an official working language of the European Union. I am pleased to have had an opportunity to have such a good debate on this issue, regardless of the language used by Senators. We do not have to argue we are better than others because we speak better Irish. Terrific Irish has been spoken tonight. It is terrible that I could understand everything Senators said and can read any magazine or paper in Irish, ach níl mé in ann morán Gaeilge a labhairt. Although I can speak Irish at will, I do not want to show my inadequacies in it.

This is a good start to what should be a good campaign. Having heard the views of the Forum on the Future of Europe on this issue, we have now had a debate in the Seanad. The question is where do we go from here. The Minister of State and I will discuss the issue with the Taoiseach and I hope the Minister of State and others will prevail upon Teachtaí Dála to hold a debate in the other House. The case has legitimacy but this would give it an added patina or varnish in that the two Houses of the Oireachtas would be of one mind on this important issue. We have put forward the project and now wish bua agus beannacht air.

Fergal Browne (Fine Gael)
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Ó 1957 nuair a shínigh na céad bhall stáit Conradh na Róimhe, agus nuair a shínigh gach tír eile conradh aontachais ó shin, thug siad a dteangacha isteach leo, ach amháin Éire, mar theangacha oifigiúla de chuid an Aontas Eorpaigh. Sa bhliain 1972, chinnigh an Rialtas an Ghaeilge a fhágáil ar lár i bpobal faoi mhíbhuntáiste suntasach — rud náireach. Is féidir, áfach, agus is mithid an dearmad a cheartú anois. Níl aon rogha againn ach aitheantas mar theanga oifigiúil oibre a bhaint amach ar son na Gaeilge. Níl na tíortha eile san Aontas in aghaidh an aitheantais sin a bhronnadh ar an Ghaeilge. Tá deis againn, agus Uachtarántacht na hEorpa faoi stiúradh an Rialtais.

Le síniú an chonartha aontachais is déanaí, cuirfidh Éire fáilte ó 1 Bealtaine amach roimh deich mball stát nua agus naoi dteanga oifigiúil nua san Aontas Eorpach. Tá Eastóinis, Laitvis, Liotuáinis, Máltais, Polainnis, Seicis, Slóvacais, Slóivéinis agus Ungáiris tugtha isteach le hais an 11 atá ann, sa chaoi is gur féidir 20 teanga oifigiúil oibre a bheith i gceist. Is tíortha beaga iad cuid mhór de na tíortha nua agus tá daonra níos ísle ná mar atá againn. Mar shampla, níl ach 380,000 duine ina gcónaí i Málta.

Tá an-áthas ar phobail na dtíortha nua roimh an gcinneadh mar go bhfuil buntáistí i ndán dóibh dá bharr a bhfuil drogall ar Rialtas na hÉireann a dheonú dá saoránaigh féin. Beidh deis níos fearr acu fostaíocht a lorg agus a fháil, cuirfear dlíthe an Aontais ar fáil dóibh ina dteangacha oifigiúla agus beidh fáilte roimh a dteangacha i bParlaimint agus institiúidí eile na hEorpa.

Is féidir linn stádas oifigiúil a bhronnadh ar an nGaeilge. Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh rogha ag na daltaí in Éireann atá ag freastal go háirithe sna Gaelscoileanna, idir bun agus meánscoileanna, timpeall na tíre fostaíocht a fháil san Aontas Eorpach. Caithfimid á dhéanamh gan mhoill.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Fine Gael)
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I welcome the contributions. This has been an interesting debate which starts rather than stops here. I am not totally satisfied with the Minister of State's response but I understand that there must be a strategic element to this and to the approach taken. I still believe in the European project and, as citizens, we must believe in it and in our autonomy in the Council of Ministers where decisions are made. The Commission can bring this proposal forward to the Council of Ministers and it can be achieved.

As I said earlier, there is a contradiction in regard to the necessity to have three languages to get promotion at European level. It is a contradiction to say that if one has Irish, one will get promotion because, in the first instance, Irish will not help one to get a job. It is like getting on the first team in Manchester United without being allowed to sign up with the club. It is an anomaly with which I have a problem.

If we are to have a sense of purpose in this regard, there should be all-party support. I was a little disappointed when the Leader spoke about where this started out. I believe it started with the Irish language lobby groups.

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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I meant in the House.

Photo of Joe McHughJoe McHugh (Fine Gael)
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I acknowledge the Irish language lobby groups which have been lobbying hard and have brought this issue to the fore and to the public's attention. That is not to undermine the work of Senator Ó Murchú and his involvement in promoting the Irish language.

There is an inextricable link between culture and economics. If we are to save the Irish language in the long term, there is no in point merely talking about it and coming into the House saying we are trying to learn the language, to get involved and to promote the Irish language. This happens at grassroots level in homes and in national and secondary schools. However, there must be an economic carrot as well. That economic carrot should be that we are able to say to students at national and secondary school levels that they, like others, can get a job in Europe if they make an extra effort at Irish. We do not have an adequate percentage of the jobs in the EU as compared to other countries. We are being discriminated against.

As has been said repeatedly tonight, Irish is recognised in the Constitution as our first language. We do not need to go to Europe and say this will cost the same as the translation service for French or German; we are not looking for every document and transcript to be translated into Irish. We are seeking recognition for the language and for Irish to be the second language on a job application for Brussels. That can be done tonight and we can move this forward. I am confident the Government will move this forward.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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Gabhaim buíochas do na Seanadóirí a chur an tairiscint ar an chlár agus don Aire agus na Seanadóirí uilig a ghlac páirt san díospóireacht ar an rún tabhachtach seo, go háirithe na daoine nach bhfuil an Ghaeilge go líofa acu a rinne sár-iarracht úsáid a bhaint as an méid atá acu anocht. Ní tharlaíonn sé go minic go n-aontófaí tairscint sa Teach seo.

Question put and agreed to.

Photo of Jim WalshJim Walsh (Fianna Fail)
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When is it proposed to sit again?

Photo of Mary O'RourkeMary O'Rourke (Fianna Fail)
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Tomorrow at 11.15 a.m.