Influencing language planning and policy in Wales and Ireland
Research led by Professor Diarmait Mac Giolla Chríost on the efficacy of Language Commissioners achieved improved outcomes for Welsh and Irish speakers.
In Wales, approximately 10% of the population speaks Welsh daily, while in Ireland, 1.5% speak Irish daily, outside of the education system. Effective and robust language policy and planning are essential in protecting native languages and ensuring opportunities for them to flourish.
Cardiff University researchers analysed the effectiveness of Language Commissioners in protecting, regulating, and promoting native languages in Ireland and Wales.
Reviewing the office of Language Commissioner
The creation of Language Commissioners in Ireland and Wales (in 2003 and 2011 respectively) were significant national developments for minority language speakers.
Funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), a team of Cardiff University researchers, led by Professor Mac Giolla Chríost, undertook a multidisciplinary comparative study of the effectiveness of these offices.
They reviewed the legislative and policy frameworks within which the Commissioners operated, including:
- Language Schemes (which cannot be imposed on public organisations; they require the Commissioner and the Government to negotiate with the organisation regarding which services they will provide in Welsh/Irish)
- Language Standards (which impose legal duties on public organisations as regards to provision of services in Welsh/Irish; these therefore ensure higher levels of compliance)
The Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011 secured official status for Welsh, created a legal framework of statutory obligations and institutional duties, and replaced Language Schemes with Language Standards.
Yet, while the legislation was significant, the Cardiff University research team argued that it would benefit from simplification.
- Reducing duplication of effort, particularly in respect to language promotion, by explicitly defining the specific responsibilities of both the Commissioner and the Welsh Government
- Clarifying lines of accountability between the Commissioner, the Welsh Government, and the (then) National Assembly (by simplifying the legal and public policy framework)
- Streamlining Language Standards
- Creating a governmental unit dedicated the development and implementation of Welsh language policy
Professor Mac Giolla Chríost’s research analysed the Official Languages Act 2003, the creation of the office of Irish Language Commissioner, and the establishment of legal rights for Irish speakers. In 2014, he produced a briefing paper for the Irish Government’s 2014 review of the Act, recommending that:
- the shelf-life of Irish Language Schemes should be extended beyond the regulatory 3- year cycle
- consideration should be given to replacing Irish Language Schemes with Irish Language Standards
- standards placed upon public bodies in the Gaeltacht (primarily Irish-speaking areas) ought to be more stringent than for elsewhere
Early intervention leads to positive change
Cardiff University’s research, conducted at an early stage in the existence of the new Language Commissioner roles and offices, provided unique and timely recommendations for change. This enabled both the Welsh and Irish Governments to recognise the need for change and act accordingly.
The impact of the research can be seen across several language planning and policy areas in Wales and Ireland.
Influencing policy on Welsh language in local government employment
The Welsh Government cited Cardiff University research in its rejection of the recommendations made by its own expert working group about legally imposing minimum Welsh-language skills on all posts in local government. The researchers had stressed the principle that there should be a direct relationship between the requirements of the post and the language skills of the post holder.
Reviewing the Welsh Language (Wales) Measure 2011
Cardiff University researchers were the only researchers to call for a macro-level review of the Measure during a Welsh Government consultation on a Welsh Language Bill. In May 2016, the Welsh Government announced its intention to revise the 2011 Measure and Cardiff University provided the only academic research identified as relevant in the Government’s subsequent White Paper (August 2017) for a proposed Welsh Language Bill. The proposed Bill did not progress, but the influence of Cardiff University’s research was evident in the announcement made by Eluned Morgan AM (then Minister for International Relations and the Welsh Language) in an August 2019 written response to the final report of the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s inquiry to better understand the impact and implementation of the 2011 Measure.
Clarifying the roles of the Government and the Commissioner
A key recommendation from the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee aligns with Cardiff University’s findings and recommendations regarding the duplication of roles. The Committee recommended that “the Welsh Government should set out clear demarcation of roles and responsibility between itself and the Welsh Language Commissioner”. A further announcement about the creation of Prosiect 2050, a new multi-disciplinary delivery unit within the Welsh Government, also aligns with the Cardiff University team’s recommendation to create a governmental unit dedicated to developing and implementing Welsh language policy.
Streamlining Welsh Language Standards
In line with Cardiff University’s research and recommendations, the Culture, Welsh Language and Communications Committee’s inquiry report recommended exploring options to adapt Welsh language standards.
Shelf-life of language Schemes and revision of the Official Languages Act 2003 (Ireland)
The Cardiff University team’s 2014 paper for the Irish Government’s review of the Official Languages Act was unique amongst the body of evidence submitted in pointing out the inadequacy of the three-year shelf-life of Schemes. It was also the only source to argue for a longer period under which the Schemes should run. These arguments were accepted in the Government’s decision to change public policy and allow individual Schemes to remain in force for over three years.
Replacing Schemes with Standards and imposing stronger duties in the Gaeltacht
Citing Professor Mac Giolla Chríost’s work in this area, a 2016 Irish Parliament report kept revision of the law on the political agenda. Subsequently, a new Heads of Bill (June 2017) and a further Bill (December 2019) reflect the research recommendations covering the replacement of Schemes with Standards and the need for more stringent application of duties in predominantly Irish-speaking areas.
A legacy of transformation
Cardiff University’s research and findings ultimately helped shape policy in Ireland and Wales – simplifying complex regulation, clarifying public policy roles and the interaction between Commissioners and governments, placing a stronger emphasis on delivering key services in both languages - directly benefiting Irish and Welsh speakers in the present, and the future.
- Mac Giolla Chriost, D. 2017. Language commissioners and their independence. In: Nason, S. ed. Administrative Justice in Wales and Comparative Perspectives. The Public Law of Wales Cardiff: University of Wales Press. , pp.107-124.
- Mac Giolla Chriost, D. 2016. The Welsh Language Commissioner in context: roles, methods and relationships. Cardiff: University of Wales Press.
- Mac-Giolla Chriost, D. 2005. The Irish language in Ireland: from Goídel to globalisation. Routledge Studies in Linguistics London: Routledge.