This morning the Irish News (25 April) reported that until recently only one garda officer assigned to a station in the Donegal Gaeltacht could speak fluent Irish.
The Republic's Irish Language Commissioner found that of nine officers sent to the area, eight could not carry out their duties through Irish.
The issue came to light after a native speaker complained that when he went to the Garda station at Bunbeg in November 2010, the garda on duty said he did not have enough Irish to deal with him. Presumbaly that was communicated to the native Irish speaker in English.
The Irish Language Commissioner then launched an investigation in February 2011 but this was temporarily stopped when three Irish speakers were assigned to the station. However this was not enough and the Irish Language Commissioner found that the Garda Commissioner had broken his statutory commitment to ensuring all staff assigned to stations in the Gaeltacht are able to carry out their duties through Irish.
This raises a number of interesting points:
1. It is clear that many members of the Garda are not fluent in Irish. Only one of the original nine police officers was able to conuct his business in Irish and that may well reflect the general level of capability in the language in the police force across the Republic.
2. Since those garda who were not fluent in Irish were going about their daily work in the Gaeltacht it seems that many people there in the Gaeltacht were quite content to conduct their business in English - which raises questions about the level of usage of the Irish language in the Gaeltacht.
3. When Irish language activists talk about an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland, this is what they are talking about and in Northern Ireland it would result in discrimination against those who do not speak Irish with preferential treatment in some sectors of employment for those who do speak Irish. That is why I am resolutely oppsoed to the creation of an Irish Language Act. It would be divisive and discriminatory.
The Irish language is part of the cultural wealth of Northern Ireland, as it is also part of the cultural wealth of the Irish Republic, but it should not be allowed to become a cultural weapon in a cultural war. Sadly many cultural nationalists have tried to use it in that way.