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Tactical successes and strategic failures – the office of the Irish Language Commissioner

18 May 2016

A Cardiff University academic has presented research on the Irish Language Commissioner at a talk hosted by Oxford University’s Centre for Linguistics and Philology.

Professor Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost from the University’s School of Welsh presented the Irish case study from a major research project, funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), on the office of language commissioner in Wales, Ireland and Canada.

The event, held on Tuesday 17 May 2016 at Oxford University, was the first time that Professor Mac Giolla Chríost, a member of Cardiff University’s Language, Policy and Planning Unit, presented the findings.

The ESRC research project was designed to develop a better understanding of the characteristics of a good regulatory environment, a high performing regulator, and regulatory practice best practice. It also investigated what effective regulatory outcomes were in relation to the offices of Language Commissioner, with a particular focus on the office of the Irish Language Commissioner.

Professor Mac Giolla Chríost’s research has identified a number of issues and challenges concerning the office of Language Commissioner in Ireland and the impact of policy changes on Irish speakers. The paper presented considered:

  • the ambiguous identity of the office of the Irish Language Commissioner, caught between functioning as a regulator or an ombudsman
  • how the retreat from equality as a framing concept for the legislation [the Official Languages Act 2003] which created the office of the Irish Language Commissioner has reinforced tokenism in relation to the statutory status of the Irish language
  • the institutional resistance to aspects of the Official Languages Act 2003
  • the impact that the limited traction the Irish language regulatory regime has on the Gaeltacht (the traditional Irish-speaking heartlands)
  • how the failure to pay sufficient attention to the Gaeltacht within the Irish language regulatory regime has contributed to the shift there towards English

Professor Mac Giolla Chríost, said of his research: “The establishment of the offices of Language Commissioner in Ireland, Wales and Canada, was a significant move to protect and promote minority languages in those countries. It is only right that we consider how those offices and their associated systems have fared and address areas of concern.

“The robust research we have conducted identifies a number of weaknesses and problems as well as suggesting practical ways of solving these.”

Professor Mac Giolla Chríost, a native of Ireland, is an authority on linguistic minorities and language planning. He is a Fellow of both the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Historical Society and has worked as an expert advisor to a number of institutions including the UK Parliament, the Welsh Assembly, Highlands and Islands Enterprise Scotland, and the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland.

Professor Mac Giolla Chríost will be visiting Ireland in the Autumn where he will present his work at Cork University.