The law, language and identity debate in Northern Ireland: some thoughts on the on-going struggle to find consensus

We are delighted to welcome this guest post by Verona Ní Dhrisceoil. Verona is a Fulbright Scholar and a Lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex.

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This post is cross-posted with the CCRL Blog.

If language was merely a communicative tool it would pack a much lighter emotional punch (J Edwards, 2003)

On the 17th January the Committee of Experts (COMEX) published the Fourth Report on the application of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (ECRML) by the United Kingdom. In it, the COMEX chastised the UK Government and the Northern Ireland Assembly (NIA) for the lack of progress made in relation to the protection and promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland since the previous monitoring round and also for the complete failure to comply with the reporting requirements under Art.15 of the Charter. On the basis of the findings of the Fourth Report, the Committee of Ministers (CoM) have now recommended (CM/RecChL(2014)3) that the authorities of the United Kingdom “as a matter of priority”:

“adopt and implement a comprehensive Irish language policy, preferably through the adoption of legislation providing statutory rights for Irish speakers.” Continue reading “The law, language and identity debate in Northern Ireland: some thoughts on the on-going struggle to find consensus”

The law, language and identity debate in Northern Ireland: some thoughts on the on-going struggle to find consensus

Language Rights: Gaps between Theory and Practice


We are delighted to welcome this guest post by Verona Ní Dhrisceoil. Verona is a Fulbright Scholar and a Lecturer in Law at the University of Sussex.

Last week, an International Conference on Language Rights was hosted by the Office of the Language Commissioner (Ireland), Fiontar (DCU) and the Language, Policy and Planning Research Unit, Wales. This conference sought to provide an opportunity for Language Commissioners from around the globe to come together and “share best practice”.  Speakers and Chairs included Graham Fraser (Commissioner of Official Languages, Canada), Rafael Ribó, (Catalan Ombudsman), Mxolisi Zwane (CEO Pan South African Language Board), Meri Huws (Welsh Language Commissioner), Sandra Inutiq (Languages Commissioner of Nunavut), Professor Robert Dunbar (now University of Edinburgh) and Professor Colin Williams (Cardiff University).

Given my research interests, I attended the conference with great interest and hoped to hear examples of where language rights were being fulfilled in practice, to be reassured that language rights are worth it. Unfortunately, the conference highlighted that there are significant difficulties in the effective realisation of language rights. As illustrated by speakers from Finland, Ireland and Kosovo, there are substantial (even gargantuan) gaps between language rights in theory and language rights in practice. Statements of “what we should do” and “what we must do” were commonplace throughout the day – even from the Canadian representatives. This is concerning, given the history of five decades of language legislation and strong commitments to human rights frameworks and notwithstanding the purposeful interpretation of language rights within judgments of the Supreme Court of Canada. In R v Beaulac [1999] 1 S.C.R. 768 Justice Bastarache stated vehemently that language rights like all other constitutional rights impose on the state the responsibility of ensuring that those rights are respected. He claimed that, “language rights are not negative rights, or passive rights; they can only be enjoyed if the means are provided”. (para 20) He also reasoned that language rights must in all cases be interpreted “purposively”, in a manner that is consistent with the “preservation and development of official language communities”. Language rights, it was held, “are a particular kind of right” and by their very nature have a different purpose (para 25).

In this blog, I would like to draw together and provide commentary on some of the central themes and issues that emerged from the conference. Continue reading “Language Rights: Gaps between Theory and Practice”

Language Rights: Gaps between Theory and Practice

Díomá do Ghaeilgeóirí – Disappointment for Irish Speakers

Bheartaigh an Chúirt Uachtarach inné nach bhfuil sé de dhíth faoi Bhunreacht na hÉireann go gcuirfí aistriúchán oifigiúil d’Achtanna an Oireachtas agus d’ionstraimí reachtúla ar fáil as Gaeilge díreach ag an am céanna agus a bhfuil siad á chur ar fáil as Béarla – Ó Murchú v An Taoiseach & eile.

Deireadh é seo le chás a thosnaigh thart ar deich mbliain ó shin nuair a lorg  aturnae  Pól  Ó  Murchú  athbhreithniú  dlíthiúil ar roinnt chúís bainteach le aistriúcháin sa teanga oifigiúil a bheith ar fáil do dhaoine gur mhaith leo a chuid cúrsaí dlí a dhéanamh trí mheáin na gaeilinne. De réir an tUasail Ó Murchú tá sé an-dheacair ar dhaoine é seo a dhéanamh gan Achtanna  agus  ionstraimí  reachtúla  cosúil  le  Rialacha  na  Cúirteanna  (agus na foirm a bhaineann leo) a bheith ar fáil as Gaeilge.

Chuir an iarratasóir an argóint os comhair na cúirte go bhfuil sé de dhíth faoin mBunreacht go mbeadh na hAchtanna 7rl ar fáil trí mheáin na gaeilinne, ach go háirithe de réir Airteagail 8, 25 agus 40. Continue reading “Díomá do Ghaeilgeóirí – Disappointment for Irish Speakers”

Díomá do Ghaeilgeóirí – Disappointment for Irish Speakers

Irish Language in the Courts, South and North

The Irish Times reports that Irish was not even among the top ten most used languages in the courts last year. The cost of providing interpretation services for Irish  was less than €2,000 in total during 2006 and fell further to €1,012 in 2007,  according to official figures provided by the Courts Service.  By contrast, over 10,000  requests were made to the Courts Service last year for interpreters for 71  different languages. Polish topped the list. The other main languages were  Romanian, Lithuanian, Russian, Mandarin Chinese, Latvian, Portuguese, French, Czech and Arabic.

Section 8  of the Official Languages Act 2003 provides that a person has the right to be heard and to use the Irish language in the courts.  Irish is recognised as the first official language in Article 8 of the Constitution, but allows the legislature to make provision for the exclusive use of Irish or English in a particular context. The leading case is Ó Beoláin v. Fahy [2001] 2 I.R. 279. You can read about Ó Beoláin in Irish and in English in this article by UCC’s Seán Ó Conaill in the 2008 Irish Student Law Review. In that case, Hardiman J. held in the Supreme Court that:

 it is not possible (at least in the absence of law of the type envisaged in Article 8.3) to exclude Irish, which is the national language and at the same time the first official language of the State, from any part of the public discourse of the nation or from any official business of the State or from the official business of any of its members. Nor is it possible in these contexts to treat it in a manner which is less favourable than the way in which the second official language is treated. Neither is it possible to prevent those who are capable and desirous of using Irish in making their case or in communicating from so doing or to disadvantage them when so doing in any national or official context.
Continue reading “Irish Language in the Courts, South and North”

Irish Language in the Courts, South and North