Publié le 15/07/04 17:45 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00
by Davyth Hicks
Éamon Ó Cuív TD, Irish Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs announced yesterday, after a Cabinet meeting, that the Government are to initiate a process of discussions with the other EU Member States and the EU Commission with a view to seeking official and working language status for the Irish language in the EU under EEC Regulation 1/1958.
The Regulation is the legal instrument that governs the EU Institutions' official and working language regime. According to the Minister's press release "The focus in these discussions will be on securing agreement on the practical modalities in relation to this objective".
Language activists have expressed their delight at the move. Dr Pádraig Ó Laighin, who led the Stádas campaign for full working status, told the Irish Times that "It is a matter of national self-esteem that one of Europe's most ancient languages should be recognised in this way. Irish is central to our definition of what Europe is and has been for the last 2,000 years”. The move will also mean that Irish will be the first Celtic language to have full EU official status.
In what is seen as something of a personal victory, Mr Ó Cuív said that there was "unanimous" support among his colleagues for the move. "This will put Irish on a par with Finnish, Swedish, Danish and Maltese, if it is successful, and we are confident that it will be," he said.
The new status will require EU laws and official documents to be issued in Irish, although the main languages used in the EU institutions will still be English, French and German. It will mean that MEPs will have direct translation in all committee and plenary meetings in the European Parliament, as well as jobs for translators and interpreters, but Mr Ó Cuív said that the decision was "more than about creating jobs".
MEP Seán Ó Neachtain welcomed the move describing it as an “imperative”.
Throughout the Irish EU Presidency the status issue was avoided despite constant pressure from a majority of Irish MPs and language campaigners. The Irish Government further raised the rancour of Catalans, Basque and Galicians by halting any progress in giving Treaty status to their languages.
Speaking exclusively to Eurolang Dr Pádraig Ó Laighin said:“This is a momentous event in the history of the Irish language and in the life of the nation. We wholeheartedly congratulate the Irish Government on their decision, and especially Minister Éamon Ó Cuív whose measured preparations made the decision possible.
“More people will speak and use Irish in the future as a result of this decision, and the whole raison d’être for learning the language in school, as a first or second language, has been transformed. No longer will Irish speakers be second-class citizens in their own country. There are no guarantees for the future of any language such as Irish, which is under threat, but this decision restores hope and strengthens self-esteem".
Dr Ó Laighin concluded that “This decision was made possible by the individual acts of thousands of people, at home and abroad. This is a victory for us all – for those who campaigned in various ways, for politicians who supported, for the Government which acted, and for those who in the future will gain benefits from a redefinition of Europe’s linguistic diversity and rich heritage.”
Support also came from Catalonia. Catalan expert, Miquel Strubell, told Eurolang that “As a language community, and given that such a measure would bring Irish-speaking citizens closer to the European institutions and make them feel accepted and represented by them, as well as giving a boost to the professionals who work with Irish, we cannot but congratulate the Irish government for the initiative, ask the Spanish government to give it its support when the request reaches the European Council - the body competent for taking the decision ... and then - and only then - remind everyone that Catalan society, including two of its Parliaments, has requested the same status for Catalan".