by Eoghan Ó Néill
Staff at the centre for research on state language policy in Ireland, Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann (ITÉ), will find out three days before Christmas whether they are to face the dole or to be redeployed to another job in the educational or public service sector.
The news that ITÉ is to go into liquidation from 9 January has shocked many language organisations and activists and indeed many foreign language specialists. They say that such a move at a time when language issues are going up the agenda of European governments is inexplicable.
On Tuesday and Wednesday of this week officials from the Department of Education met with the 26 employees of the ITÉ to ascertain their skills and abilities and to assess whether they can be redeployed in the public sector. There is no certainty however that all the staff will be redeployed nor is it clear what will happen to the invaluable collection of information on all aspects of Irish language research which ITÉ has compiled over the last 30 years.
ITÉ is a company in it's own right but it receives most of it's work from the Department of Education and alarm bells started to ring when the Department made only a nominal grant provision for ITÉ in the Budget estimates.
The specific reason for the closure of ITÉ is not clear, even though it has been clear for a number of years that there have been problems at the Institute.
Over the last two years the company has paid 92,000 euros for legal fees arising out of two court cases involving employees. Some senior posts were left unfilled and there has been tension in regard to the access which the staff representative has had to meetings of the company committee.
Two reports were commissioned on ITÉ in recent years. Both praised the work being undertaken by ITÉ but recommended restructuring of one form or another. And while most staff would be happy to see restructuring they feel that closing ITÉ is not justified.
‘If this was the body responsible for government research in the field of agriculture, economic policy, social issues or anything else there is no way the government would allow it to close’ an employee of ITÉ told the newspaper Lá.
‘The reality is that there is no other body in the country which can adequately perform these functions of research and planning in the Irish language field and this will be a disaster for the Irish language.’
The Department of Education says that the decision to liquidate the company was taken by the Executive Committee of ITÉ itself in July 2003, - before the Department had decided to designate only a nominal amount for ITÉ in the budget.
And the Minister for Education, Noel Dempsey T.D., told Dáil Éireann,‘My Department has given a commitment to provide every assistance to the company in giving effect to its future intentions, in partnership with the staff of the Institute. This will include arrangements for ensuring the continuation of the research functions previously carried out by the Institute and, in the interests of assisting with an orderly wind-up, facilitating appropriate re-deployment or other appropriate arrangements for permanent staff.’
Meantime academics from at home and abroad are among those who have written to newspapers and voiced concern that the vacuum which the closure of ITÉ would leave would be disastrous for the Irish language - especially at a time when the Acht Teanga is about to be implemented.
One Catalan academic, Miquel Strubell of Universitat Oberta de Catalunya, writing to the Irish Times said that: ‘We believe Institiúid Teangeolaíochta Éireann is an irreplaceable social, educational, and linguistic resource and its value in terms of its contribution nationally and internationally greatly exceeds the modest funding it has received. It would be an extraordinary waste of resources and talent to abandon its prestigious programme of research and to disperse its academic staff’.