1.1Under Art. 2 (a) of the Joint Committee’s Orders of Reference the Joint Committee has power to review and make recommendations in relation to
“the extension of the use of Irish in the proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad and in the environs of both Houses”.
2.2The Joint Committee has reviewed the progress made since the time the first Joint Committee was established in 1985, in relation to the extension of the use of Irish in the proceedings of the Dáil and Seanad and in the environs of both Houses. In particular the progress in relation to the implementation of the recommendations of previous Joint Committees was examined.
1.3The objective of this report is to make practical, achievable recommendations with a view to:
•creating a bilingual atmosphere in the Houses of the Oireachtas
•encouraging Deputies and Senators to use more Irish in the proceedings of the Houses.
CREATING A BILINGUAL ATMOSPHERE
2.1Everybody understands that business can be transacted in English in the Houses of the Oireachtas, however, specific measures must be taken if it is to be made clear that business can be transacted in Irish also. It must be evident that Irish is on an equal standing with English if a truly bilingual atmosphere is to be created in the Houses of the Oireachtas. The following recommendations are directed at achieving this objective.
2.2It is often on the phone that first contact is made with the public. It is recommended that the phone be answered with a greeting such as “Tithe an Oireachtais” or “Teach Laighean”, rather than “Leinster House”. While this recommendation was made in the past the phone is often answered at present with the greeting “Leinster House”.
2.3The Joint Committee recognise that progress has been made in relation to the provision of bilingual signs. This practice is not always adhered to, however, when new signs are erected. It is recommended that any sign which is in English only should be replaced with a bilingual sign as soon as possible.
2.4The Joint Committee understands that there is not always sufficient space on small signs for a bilingual message (i.e. the no-smoking signs on the tables in the restaurant). It is the view of the Joint Committee that everybody would understand these simple messages if they were in Irish only.
2.5It is recommended that the badges for visitors, departmental officials and families of Members should be bilingual. If there is not sufficient space on the badges for a bilingual message it is recommended that the message be in Irish only.
2.6It is recommended that there should be at least one official in each office who would be capable of dealing with the work of the office through Irish and it should be clear to both Members and staff who that person is. The officers with bilingual competence could be identified in the internal telephone directory.
2.7As both Members and the public are in daily contact with the General Office and the Enquiries Office, it is recommended that a special effort be made to ensure that it is possible to deal these two offices bilingually. It is recommended that there should be a sign in each of the two offices advising that business can be done and is welcomed, through Irish.
2.8It is recommended that all forms used in the Houses of the Oireachtas should be bilingual.
THE USE OF IRISH IN THE DÁIL AND SEANAD
3.1If the use of Irish is to be extended in the proceedings of the Houses an environment suitable for the use of Irish must be created and steps taken to encourage its use by Members.
3.2.1It is the view of the Joint Committee that the following elements are essential to the creation of a suitable environment for the use of Irish:
•a simultaneous translation service
•a translation facility for speeches
•regular Irish classes and courses
•a handbook of phrases used regularly in the work of the Houses.
3.2.2The Joint Committee is pleased that a simultaneous translation service of a high standard is available in the Dáil and Seanad. It is the view of the Joint Committee that a simultaneous translation service is the principal requirement in the creation of a suitable environment for the use of Irish in the proceedings of the Houses. it is recommended that this service be extended as follows:
(a)The provision of a service in Committee Rooms.
(b)The provision of headphones in the offices of the political correspondents.
3.2.3The Second Joint Committee on the Irish Language arranged a survey amongst Members of the Oireachtas in relation to Irish. About 50% of the Members of the two Houses took part in this survey. The results of the survey illustrated that over 50% of those who took part considered that their standard of Irish was good\average. It is the view of the Joint Committee that such Members are often reluctant to deliver a speech, or part of a speech, in Irish, due to doubts about their competence in the language. It is recommended that assistance should be available to Members to help them prepare a speech or a passage of a speech in Irish.
3.2.4As a result of a recommendation from the Joint Committee Irish language classes were arranged for Members at the beginning of this year. Twenty two Members took part in the classes. The Joint Committee believe that these classes should represent a beginning to be built on and further classes and courses, at different levels, should be arranged in the future. It is recommended, for example, that a course be arranged for Members with a reasonably high standard of Irish, based on “dealing with the communications media”.
3.2.5It is recommended that Irish events be arranged in the Houses of the Oireachtas on a regular basis. (Lunch through Irish, for example).
3.2.6A number of years ago a bilingual handbook containing phrases regularly used in the work of the Houses was available to Members. It is understood that this handbook has been out of print for some time. It is recommended that such a handbook be published again at an early date. Such a handbook would help resolve the problem identified at 3.2.3 above.
3.3.1The Joint Committee recognise that even with the ideal environment there will not be any substantial increase in the use of Irish in the Dáil and Seanad without specific measures being taken to encourage Members, who are well-disposed towards Irish, to use it regularly. The amount of Irish used in the proceedings of the Houses where the subject matter does not concern the Irish Language or the Gaeltacht is a cause of disappointment to the Joint Committee. The Joint Committee considers that the principal reasons that more Irish is not used in the proceedings of the Houses are:
•practices that have developed over the years
•some members have not sufficient confidence that their standard of Irish is satisfactory
•the view that little publicity is to be gained from using Irish in the proceedings of the Houses.
3.3.2It is the view of the Joint Committee that party leaders have a very important role to play in relation to the changing of present practices in regard to the use of Irish in the proceedings of the Houses. It is recommended that party leaders should lead by example and regularly include a passage in Irish in speeches and statements where the subject matter does not concern Irish or the Gaeltacht
3.3.3It would be of great help in promoting Irish in the Houses of the Oireachtas if Irish was to be heard in speeches being delivered on important matters such as the budget, the adjournment debate at the end of a Session and other important matters of public interest. If progress is to be made then Ministers and party spokespersons will have to make a special effort
3.3.4It is recommended that the question on the adjournment be taken in Irish in both Houses, where the subject matter pertains to Irish or to an area in the Gaeltacht.
3.3.5The problem which exists in regard to the lack of confidence of certain Members in relation to the preparation of speeches in Irish could be resolved if the recommendation at 3.2.3 above relating to the provision of a translation facility was implemented. It is believed that this would give more confidence to many Members who are well-disposed to Irish but do not use it regularly.
3.3.6If the recommendation at 3.2.2 (b) regarding the provision of headphones in the offices of the political correspondents is implemented this should help improve the situation regarding the lack of coverage in the media of the work of the Houses undertaken through the medium of Irish.
3.3.7It is recommended that the Broadcasting Control Committee liaise with RTÉ in an effort to ensure that the staff of RTÉ who deal with the broadcasting of the proceedings of the Oireachtas have a satisfactory standard of Irish.
4.1Question Time is a central part of the business of the Dáil. Question Time gives the Dáil a wonderful opportunity to operate bilingually. At present it is extremely seldom that a question is asked in Irish on a matter not pertaining to Irish, or the Gaeltacht. The Joint Committee are making the following recommendations with a view to encouraging Members to change this practice.
4.2It is recommended that priority be given to one question in Irish to an Taoiseach on each day on which questions are being taken by him.
4.3It is recommended that Members be allowed to enter an additional question in the lottery for oral questions each day, on the condition that the question is in Irish.
4.4The practice at present is to answer questions in the language in which they are put. The Joint Committee recognise that it would not be possible to adhere to this practice always, if the recommendations at 4.2 and 4.3 above are to be implemented.
It is recommended that a new code of practice should be implemented whereby it would be acceptable that a question in Irish could be answered in English or a question in English answered in Irish.
Máire Ní Chochláinn T.D.
Cathaoirleach don Chomhchoiste
26 Deireadh Fómhair, 1994