Department of Arts, Culture and the Gaeltacht called and examined
Vice Chairman: I wish to refer briefly to the official languages Bill. Mr. Hamill mentions that it is on the A list, with the National Concert Hall Bill. There is an historical issue with the official languages Bill which I have raised for many years. It relates to the translation of documents. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has been involved to a degree on this issue through its Secretary General.
My concern was that we were wasting money which I believed should have been put into Irish language promotion. The money was being spent on the publication of all documents in Irish. There is an example I always use. The stream of funding for secondary school children who wish to take the leaving certificate through Irish ends after second year. It was pointed out to me that this was ridiculous.
The Government is printing all of these documents when the money should be put into children's education if they wish to do the leaving certificate through Irish. As it is a good example, I raised the issue. Is something being done in the Bill about the translation of documents? If so, will the money be channelled back into Irish language promotion?
Mr. Joe Hamill: To respond to the first part of the question, there is a proposal in the Bill to amend the manner in which decisions are made on the documents that are translated. To be fair, the Language Commissioner has acknowledged that spending money on translating documents for which there is no demand subsequently is not the best way to use resources.
One thing we are considering - obviously this will be subject to progress through the Oireachtas and so forth - is the need to keep the provision that specific documents of public interest continue to be produced bilingually such as annual reports, strategy statements from Departments and the like. However, beyond this, there would be a mechanism to bring flexibility to how one would define-----
Vice Chairman: Reports will continue to be printed in Irish.
Mr. Joe Hamill: We went through a long consultation process on this issue. There was a strong feeling there should be a facility for people who use Irish as their daily language to access official material such as the annual report of a Department or a large public body.
Vice Chairman: The complainants, in my experience, are the people who actively speak Irish. There is a Gaeltacht in my constituency and the ones who are more horrified by this are Irish speakers. I do not know whom Mr. Hamill is consulting because the people to whom I speak believe the money should go back into their communities where Irish is being spoken and to try to prevent people from leaving the country.
Mr. Joe Hamill: We are trying to address this issue on a number of fronts. We are trying to say we should only routinely translate certain limited categories of documents. The next set of documents should be specified by the Minister from time to time. The complaints we were receiving were about documents that might be related to draft plans or the like being translated, for which there was very little demand, while there was a large translation cost.
We are also doing some work with Dublin City University on better ways of translating documents using technology. There is a more efficient way of translating documents at far less cost. Some call it "machine translation"-----
Vice Chairman: What does the amendment do?
Mr. Joe Hamill: The amendment has not yet been presented. It is simply to provide that specific documents such as annual reports and so forth will continue to be published bilingually. There is a very broad definition of what public policy proposals should be translated and it has been interpreted broadly. We are trying to provide that it would be decided by way of specific regulations. There would be a more focused approach to what was and was not translated.
Vice Chairman: There is another cost - there is the cost of translation and then the cost of publication.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Our preferred option and our guidance to public bodies would be electronic publication only.
Vice Chairman: Mr. Hamill is hoping to cut out all publication costs.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Ultimately, we can only offer guidance. Our proposal will be that when the Bill is passed, we provide new guidance in which we will try to focus on only translating documents for which there is a demand, using technology to the greatest extent possible and only online publication to keep the cost down.
Vice Chairman: Some Departments are already doing this, but not all.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Yes.
Vice Chairman: I have a question about airstrips. I have a conflict of interest because my wife comes from Inishmore. The annual subsidy for Aer Arann Oileáin is €1.8 million and there have been issues with this funding for the past few years. The service has been provided for 42 years. Mr. Hamill mentioned a figure of €300,000 or €400,000 for maintenance, for maintaining the three airstrips on Inis Oírr, Inish Meáin and Inishmore.
Mr. Joe Hamill: Unfortunately, I do not have a breakdown with me, but I expect it is probably the larger part of it. I will include the exact breakdown in my note to the committee.