Irish Language Act: fulfillment of past promise or future concensus?

As noted previously, the parties seem short of concrete arguments on the merits and de-merits of the proposed Irish Language Act. Much of the public discussion comes down to: we’re having it; or, you’re not! Gerry Adams’ plans to tell the (currently belaboured) Minister for Culture Edwin Poots that he had already negotiated it separately with the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair. The BBC reports.

Mr Poots insists he is not bound by promises made by the Prime Minister. When it was put to him he was cherrypicking the act, he insisted his party did not negotiate the Irish language Act at St Andrews.

He added it was up to his department to make recommendations but it was then a matter for the Executive and Assembly. “Ultimately we have to achieve cross-community consensus and cross community support to win this one.”

Hmmm…

Update Poots after the meeting:

“I am not bound by an agreement between Sinn Fein and Tony Blair,” he said. “What I am bound by is the Northern Ireland Assembly and ultimately any decisions I take have to be taken through the Northern Ireland Assembly.

“We have conditions to ensure that issues which are controversial – and I take it this is deemed to be controversial – that they require cross-community support. “So ultimately it is a challenge for those people who are lobbying for an Irish Language Act to ensure that they can achieve cross-community support.”[Emphasis added]

Adds: Commenter Oilibhear makes mention of Part III of the Council of Europe’s European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. In an attempt to aid reference, here’s the relevant section:

Part III – Measures to promote the use of regional or minority languages in public life in accordance with the undertakings entered into under Article 2, paragraph 2

Article 8 – Education

With regard to education, the Parties undertake, within the territory in which such languages are used, according to the situation of each of these languages, and without prejudice to the teaching of the official language(s) of the State:

to make available pre-school education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to make available a substantial part of pre-school education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to apply one of the measures provided for under i and ii above at least to those pupils whose families so request and whose number is considered sufficient; or
if the public authorities have no direct competence in the field of pre-school education, to favour and/or encourage the application of the measures referred to under i to iii above;

to make available primary education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to make available a substantial part of primary education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to provide, within primary education, for the teaching of the relevant regional or minority languages as an integral part of the curriculum; or
to apply one of the measures provided for under i to iii above at least to those pupils whose families so request and whose number is considered sufficient;

to make available secondary education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to make available a substantial part of secondary education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to provide, within secondary education, for the teaching of the relevant regional or minority languages as an integral part of the curriculum; or
to apply one of the measures provided for under i to iii above at least to those pupils who, or where appropriate whose families, so wish in a number considered sufficient;

to make available technical and vocational education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to make available a substantial part of technical and vocational education in the relevant regional or minority languages; or
to provide, within technical and vocational education, for the teaching of the relevant regional or minority languages as an integral part of the curriculum; or
to apply one of the measures provided for under i to iii above at least to those pupils who, or where appropriate whose families, so wish in a number considered sufficient;

to make available university and other higher education in regional or minority languages; or
to provide facilities for the study of these languages as university and higher education subjects; or
if, by reason of the role of the State in relation to higher education institutions, sub-paragraphs i and ii cannot be applied, to encourage and/or allow the provision of university or other forms of higher education in regional or minority languages or of facilities for the study of these languages as university or higher education subjects;

to arrange for the provision of adult and continuing education courses which are taught mainly or wholly in the regional or minority languages; or
to offer such languages as subjects of adult and continuing education; or
if the public authorities have no direct competence in the field of adult education, to favour and/or encourage the offering of such languages as subjects of adult and continuing education;
to make arrangements to ensure the teaching of the history and the culture which is reflected by the regional or minority language;
to provide the basic and further training of the teachers required to implement those of paragraphs a to g accepted by the Party;
to set up a supervisory body or bodies responsible for monitoring the measures taken and progress achieved in establishing or developing the teaching of regional or minority languages and for drawing up periodic reports of their findings, which will be made public.
With regard to education and in respect of territories other than those in which the regional or minority languages are traditionally used, the Parties undertake, if the number of users of a regional or minority language justifies it, to allow, encourage or provide teaching in or of the regional or minority language at all the appropriate stages of education.
Article 9 – Judicial authorities

The Parties undertake, in respect of those judicial districts in which the number of residents using the regional or minority languages justifies the measures specified below, according to the situation of each of these languages and on condition that the use of the facilities afforded by the present paragraph is not considered by the judge to hamper the proper administration of justice:
in criminal proceedings:
to provide that the courts, at the request of one of the parties, shall conduct the proceedings in the regional or minority languages; and/or
to guarantee the accused the right to use his/her regional or minority language; and/or
to provide that requests and evidence, whether written or oral, shall not be considered inadmissible solely because they are formulated in a regional or minority language; and/or
to produce, on request, documents connected with legal proceedings in the relevant regional or minority language,
if necessary by the use of interpreters and translations involving no extra expense for the persons concerned;

in civil proceedings:
to provide that the courts, at the request of one of the parties, shall conduct the proceedings in the regional or minority languages; and/or
to allow, whenever a litigant has to appear in person before a court, that he or she may use his or her regional or minority language without thereby incurring additional expense; and/or
to allow documents and evidence to be produced in the regional or minority languages,
if necessary by the use of interpreters and translations;

in proceedings before courts concerning administrative matters:
to provide that the courts, at the request of one of the parties, shall conduct the proceedings in the regional or minority languages; and/or
to allow, whenever a litigant has to appear in person before a court, that he or she may use his or her regional or minority language without thereby incurring additional expense; and/or
to allow documents and evidence to be produced in the regional or minority languages,
if necessary by the use of interpreters and translations;

to take steps to ensure that the application of sub-paragraphs i and iii of paragraphs b and c above and any necessary use of interpreters and translations does not involve extra expense for the persons concerned.
The Parties undertake:
not to deny the validity of legal documents drawn up within the State solely because they are drafted in a regional or minority language; or
not to deny the validity, as between the parties, of legal documents drawn up within the country solely because they are drafted in a regional or minority language, and to provide that they can be invoked against interested third parties who are not users of these languages on condition that the contents of the document are made known to them by the person(s) who invoke(s) it; or
not to deny the validity, as between the parties, of legal documents drawn up within the country solely because they are drafted in a regional or minority language.
The Parties undertake to make available in the regional or minority languages the most important national statutory texts and those relating particularly to users of these languages, unless they are otherwise provided.
Article 10 – Administrative authorities and public services

Within the administrative districts of the State in which the number of residents who are users of regional or minority languages justifies the measures specified below and according to the situation of each language, the Parties undertake, as far as this is reasonably possible:

to ensure that the administrative authorities use the regional or minority languages; or
to ensure that such of their officers as are in contact with the public use the regional or minority languages in their relations with persons applying to them in these languages; or
to ensure that users of regional or minority languages may submit oral or written applications and receive a reply in these languages; or
to ensure that users of regional or minority languages may submit oral or written applications in these languages; or
to ensure that users of regional or minority languages may validly submit a document in these languages;
to make available widely used administrative texts and forms for the population in the regional or minority languages or in bilingual versions;
to allow the administrative authorities to draft documents in a regional or minority language.
In respect of the local and regional authorities on whose territory the number of residents who are users of regional or minority languages is such as to justify the measures specified below, the Parties undertake to allow and/or encourage:
the use of regional or minority languages within the framework of the regional or local authority;
the possibility for users of regional or minority languages to submit oral or written applications in these languages;
the publication by regional authorities of their official documents also in the relevant regional or minority languages;
the publication by local authorities of their official documents also in the relevant regional or minority languages;
the use by regional authorities of regional or minority languages in debates in their assemblies, without excluding, however, the use of the official language(s) of the State;
the use by local authorities of regional or minority languages in debates in their assemblies, without excluding, however, the use of the official language(s) of the State;
the use or adoption, if necessary in conjunction with the name in the official language(s), of traditional and correct forms of place-names in regional or minority languages.
With regard to public services provided by the administrative authorities or other persons acting on their behalf, the Parties undertake, within the territory in which regional or minority languages are used, in accordance with the situation of each language and as far as this is reasonably possible:
to ensure that the regional or minority languages are used in the provision of the service; or
to allow users of regional or minority languages to submit a request and receive a reply in these languages; or
to allow users of regional or minority languages to submit a request in these languages.
With a view to putting into effect those provisions of paragraphs 1, 2 and 3 accepted by them, the Parties undertake to take one or more of the following measures:
translation or interpretation as may be required;
recruitment and, where necessary, training of the officials and other public service employees required;
compliance as far as possible with requests from public service employees having a knowledge of a regional or minority language to be appointed in the territory in which that language is used.
The Parties undertake to allow the use or adoption of family names in the regional or minority languages, at the request of those concerned.
Article 11 – Media

The Parties undertake, for the users of the regional or minority languages within the territories in which those languages are spoken, according to the situation of each language, to the extent that the public authorities, directly or indirectly, are competent, have power or play a role in this field, and respecting the principle of the independence and autonomy of the media:
to the extent that radio and television carry out a public service mission:
to ensure the creation of at least one radio station and one television channel in the regional or minority languages; or
to encourage and/or facilitate the creation of at least one radio station and one television channel in the regional or minority languages; or
to make adequate provision so that broadcasters offer programmes in the regional or minority languages;

to encourage and/or facilitate the creation of at least one radio station in the regional or minority languages; or
to encourage and/or facilitate the broadcasting of radio programmes in the regional or minority languages on a regular basis;

to encourage and/or facilitate the creation of at least one television channel in the regional or minority languages; or
to encourage and/or facilitate the broadcasting of television programmes in the regional or minority languages on a regular basis;
to encourage and/or facilitate the production and distribution of audio and audiovisual works in the regional or minority languages;

to encourage and/or facilitate the creation and/or maintenance of at least one newspaper in the regional or minority languages; or
to encourage and/or facilitate the publication of newspaper articles in the regional or minority languages on a regular basis;

to cover the additional costs of those media which use regional or minority languages, wherever the law provides for financial assistance in general for the media; or
to apply existing measures for financial assistance also to audiovisual productions in the regional or minority languages;
to support the training of journalists and other staff for media using regional or minority languages.
The Parties undertake to guarantee freedom of direct reception of radio and television broadcasts from neighbouring countries in a language used in identical or similar form to a regional or minority language, and not to oppose the retransmission of radio and television broadcasts from neighbouring countries in such a language. They further undertake to ensure that no restrictions will be placed on the freedom of expression and free circulation of information in the written press in a language used in identical or similar form to a regional or minority language. The exercise of the above-mentioned freedoms, since it carries with it duties and responsibilities, may be subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society, in the interests of national security, territorial integrity or public safety, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, for the protection of the reputation or rights of others, for preventing disclosure of information received in confidence, or for maintaining the authority and impartiality of the judiciary.
The Parties undertake to ensure that the interests of the users of regional or minority languages are represented or taken into account within such bodies as may be established in accordance with the law with responsibility for guaranteeing the freedom and pluralism of the media.
Article 12 – Cultural activities and facilities

With regard to cultural activities and facilities – especially libraries, video libraries, cultural centres, museums, archives, academies, theatres and cinemas, as well as literary work and film production, vernacular forms of cultural expression, festivals and the culture industries, including inter alia the use of new technologies – the Parties undertake, within the territory in which such languages are used and to the extent that the public authorities are competent, have power or play a role in this field:
to encourage types of expression and initiative specific to regional or minority languages and foster the different means of access to works produced in these languages;
to foster the different means of access in other languages to works produced in regional or minority languages by aiding and developing translation, dubbing, post-synchronisation and subtitling activities;
to foster access in regional or minority languages to works produced in other languages by aiding and developing translation, dubbing, post-synchronisation and subtitling activities;
to ensure that the bodies responsible for organising or supporting cultural activities of various kinds make appropriate allowance for incorporating the knowledge and use of regional or minority languages and cultures in the undertakings which they initiate or for which they provide backing;
to promote measures to ensure that the bodies responsible for organising or supporting cultural activities have at their disposal staff who have a full command of the regional or minority language concerned, as well as of the language(s) of the rest of the population;
to encourage direct participation by representatives of the users of a given regional or minority language in providing facilities and planning cultural activities;
to encourage and/or facilitate the creation of a body or bodies responsible for collecting, keeping a copy of and presenting or publishing works produced in the regional or minority languages;
if necessary, to create and/or promote and finance translation and terminological research services, particularly with a view to maintaining and developing appropriate administrative, commercial, economic, social, technical or legal terminology in each regional or minority language.
In respect of territories other than those in which the regional or minority languages are traditionally used, the Parties undertake, if the number of users of a regional or minority language justifies it, to allow, encourage and/or provide appropriate cultural activities and facilities in accordance with the preceding paragraph.
The Parties undertake to make appropriate provision, in pursuing their cultural policy abroad, for regional or minority languages and the cultures they reflect.
Article 13 – Economic and social life

With regard to economic and social activities, the Parties undertake, within the whole country:
to eliminate from their legislation any provision prohibiting or limiting without justifiable reasons the use of regional or minority languages in documents relating to economic or social life, particularly contracts of employment, and in technical documents such as instructions for the use of products or installations;
to prohibit the insertion in internal regulations of companies and private documents of any clauses excluding or restricting the use of regional or minority languages, at least between users of the same language;
to oppose practices designed to discourage the use of regional or minority languages in connection with economic or social activities;
to facilitate and/or encourage the use of regional or minority languages by means other than those specified in the above sub-paragraphs.
With regard to economic and social activities, the Parties undertake, in so far as the public authorities are competent, within the territory in which the regional or minority languages are used, and as far as this is reasonably possible:
to include in their financial and banking regulations provisions which allow, by means of procedures compatible with commercial practice, the use of regional or minority languages in drawing up payment orders (cheques, drafts, etc.) or other financial documents, or, where appropriate, to ensure the implementation of such provisions;
in the economic and social sectors directly under their control (public sector), to organise activities to promote the use of regional or minority languages;
to ensure that social care facilities such as hospitals, retirement homes and hostels offer the possibility of receiving and treating in their own language persons using a regional or minority language who are in need of care on grounds of ill-health, old age or for other reasons;
to ensure by appropriate means that safety instructions are also drawn up in regional or minority languages;
to arrange for information provided by the competent public authorities concerning the rights of consumers to be made available in regional or minority languages.
Article 14 – Transfrontier exchanges

The Parties undertake:

to apply existing bilateral and multilateral agreements which bind them with the States in which the same language is used in identical or similar form, or if necessary to seek to conclude such agreements, in such a way as to foster contacts between the users of the same language in the States concerned in the fields of culture, education, information, vocational training and permanent education;
for the benefit of regional or minority languages, to facilitate and/ or promote co-operation across borders, in particular between regional or local authorities in whose territory the same language is used in identical or similar form.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty