Attempts to speak Irish in Parliament underscore need for upgraded status
Dépêche de Eurolang

Publié le 23/07/04 8:59 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

by James Fife

When Irish MEP Seán Ó Neachtain attempted to deliver his intervention on Thursday during the debate on the election of José Barroso as President of the European Commission, he was stopped in his tracks. The reason: Ó Neachtain was speaking Gaelic.

European Parliament Vice President Dagmar Roth-Behrendt interrupted Ó Neachtain’s intervention, saying that Irish was not a working language of either the EU or the Parliament. Since no interpretation would be possible, Mr. Barroso would not be able to comprehend the comments.

Ó'Neachtain told Eurolang that he thought arrangements had been made for interpretation via a written translation of his Gaelic text. However, the translation did not reach the interpreters in time to be used during his speech.

“This incident shows that the system of handing in a written translation before a speech in Parliament does not work,” Ó Neachtain said to Eurolang. Official status for Irish would have avoided this problem, since simultaneous interpretation would have already been in place. Although he uses English when necessary, Ó Neachtain said his own language comes first.

The Irish Taoiseach, Bertie Ahern, in his speech Wednesday to mark the end of the Irish Presidency of the EU, likewise began addressing the Parliament in Gaelic, but then stopped, making the comment, “Mr. President, I see that some Members are having difficulty receiving their Irish language interpretation. Perhaps when Irish is fully recognised in Europe we will have one difficulty less.”

The Irish government recently reversed itself and said it would seek official status for the language after all. These aborted attempts to use Irish in the EP, like that of Catalan MEP Bernat Joan (see related Eurolang story), highlight the position of languages which have substantial numbers of speakers, but no official status in European institutions.

In his statement to Eurolang, Ó Neachtain said that the bid for official status was not about creating jobs for Irish speakers, but is an unexercised right which every member state has under current EU law to have its official language used as a Union working language. “Irish is the one exception to this,” said Ó Neachtain.

“For certain reasons, this was just a right the Irish government never sought to exercise in the past. But better late than never,” he said. He stressed official status for Irish will promote diversity in Europe through what he called the most important cultural credential of all—language.

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