English road sign “an affront to the Gaelic tradition”

An English-only road sign in County Galway pointing in the direction of the grave of one of the most famous Irish language poets ever was among the complaints investigated by An Coimisinéir Teanga.

The complainant found it was “an affront to the Gaelic tradition” that the road sign pointing to the grave of Anthony Raftery (1779-18356) along the R446 Old Dublin Road was written in English only, and contained no Irish.

The An Spidéal based An Coimisinéir Teanga, Rónán Ó Domhnaill, said his office regularly receives complaints in relation to English-only signage but the complaint about Raftery the poet sign, who is buried near Craughwell, was “particularly noteworthy”.

In his annual report 2017, launched this week, Mr Ó Domhnaill said: “When my office raised the issue with Galway County Council, it removed the English language sign and replaced it with a bilingual sign. The complainant was very pleased with this outcome and claimed that even the poet’s ghost would be indebted to us!”

Meanwhile, the report also notes a complaint from someone who got a court summons from Galway City Council. He requested the summons in Irish, and the Council obliged but when a solicitor acting on behalf of the Council afterwards wrote a letter to him in English, he contacted the commissioner’s office.

The office advised the Council that its language scheme “contained a commitment that correspondence would be conducted through Irish” if that was the wish of the customer.

The scheme said that third parties acting on behalf of the local authority would also comply with language obligations that the Language Act placed on the Council.

“The Council accepted that an error had occurred, the solicitor apologised to the complainant and he sent him the relevant correspondence in Irish,” said Mr Ó Domhnaill in his report.

The 2017 report was launched on Wednesday, and it showed that the number of complaints to the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga fell by 17% to 638 compared with the previous year.

One third of the complaints concerned services which come under the scope of language schemes. This area encompasses services such as websites, online systems, application forms and interpersonal services. A large number of complaints also concerned a lack of Irish on signage and stationery.

The greatest proportion of complaints came from people who live in Dublin (35%) and one in every five complaints originated from a Gaeltacht area. Some 13% of all complaints originated from Galway, the report said.

Mr Ó Domhnaill welcomed a recommendation from the Department of Education, which would end one of the major obstacles to the establishment of new Irish-medium schools.

Under the current regime for the establishment of new schools, the patron with the highest number of expressions of interest is the one chosen to establish the new school; this is recognised as a major obstacle to the development of Irish-medium education.

Under the proposed new system, the patron seeking an Irish-medium school would not necessarily require the largest number of expressions of interest, and two separate schools would be established independently of each other – one English-medium school and one Irish-medium school – if demand for Irish-medium education from a certain percentage of parents could be proven.