Saturday, 8 March 2008

O'Cuiv's charter for legal obfuscation

Maybe Gaelic is worth learning after all?

The First Notional Language of the country - as enshrined in DeValera's 1937 Constitution - has long been used as tool by some enthusiasts to obfuscate and delay legal proceedings; from fighting TV licence fees on the basis that there isn't enough Gaeilge on TV, to having speeding charges dropped because the ticket was issued in the vernacular, English. Perfectly legally, you understand.

However, the potential scope for evading, delaying and complicating the legal process has been assisted greatly by Eamonn O'Cuiv's 2003 Official Languages Act, which stipulates that public services and publications must be provided in Irish.

Before introducing the Act, O'Cuiv is reported to have told a meeting of Irish Language activists in Spiddal that "The English speakers of the country do not know about the Bill and if they did there is a good chance that we would not succeed in putting it through". They - the Dail TDs - didn't, and they - the Irish Language Lobby - did.

Gombeen Man is not commenting on the specifics of the following case, or disputing the issue of availing of a constitutional right. He is, however, using it as an example of how - due to one of the more reactionary elements of the 1937 Constitution (along with the enshrinement of Catholicism), and the Official Languages Act - a legal case dating back as far as 1990 was still under progress at the Supreme Court last Thursday.

According to a report in The Irish Times (Friday, 7th March), a Ruairí Mac Cárthaigh, of Tallaght, was charged with the robbery of confectionery and chocolate to the value of €11,000 and receiving the goods knowing them to have been stolen, at Suardais Road, Dublin, on May 28th, 1990. He denies the charges and wants his trial conducted in Irish, saying he was raised in Dublin through Irish.

It seems that Mac Cárthaigh had originally sought to be tried by a jury sufficiently fluent in Irish to follow court proceedings, but this was correctly refused by the court on the basis that "most of the population would be excluded from jury service if they were required to have a clear grasp of the Irish Language", and would "be contrary to the requirement that a jury should be truly representative".

So, if a trial is conducted "as Gaeilge", it must be translated to the vernacular for the benefit of the judge and jury, and for any "member of the public who wishes to avail of translation" - as most people would not have a clue what was being said if a trial was to be carried out only in Gaelic.

It would appear, though, that there are two kinds of translation - simultaneous and consecutive. The court had originally ruled to translate consecutively, a decision Mac Cártaigh appealed in 2002 - claiming that the interests of justice could be better served by simultaneous, rather than consecutive translation. So now, 18 years after the original alleged offence (yes, 18 - unless there is an error in the newspaper's report), Mac Cártaigh has been given leave to make a fresh application for simultaneous translation of proceedings in the Circuit criminal Court, on the grounds that an interpretation of O'Cuiv's legislation could give more weight to his argument.

It is obvious that in today's Ireland, with its welcome mix of new nationalities, there are genuine demands on the courts for translation services to facilitate some foreign nationals who haven't yet acquired satisfactory English. Presumably such defendants will have no right to simultaneous translation, because it applies only to the official languages? But surely the basis of the argument applies just as much here, if one form of translation is inherently inferior to the other? If not more so, as such defendants have a genuine need to have their cases translated.

Gombeen Man would contend that there are no Gaelic speakers in the country who are not also fluent in English. So if that is the case, why can't legal proceedings simply take place in that language? The answer, of course, is due to the elevated status of Gaelic in the constitution - aided by O'Cuiv's Act - which allows such obtuse wrangling. So, unless a referendum is called to remove it as the first official language of the State, nothing will change.

And what politician or party would have the courage to call for the slaughter of that particular sacred cow?

For Census figures on Irish speakers, see "Sunday Tribune and the Irish Language Industry"

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Darren J Prior said...

"Gombeen Man would contend that there are no Gaelic speakers in the country who are not also fluent in English."

There are a lot of native Irish speakers who speak Irish better than English. A significant number of them anyway.

The Gombeen Man said...

My contention stands. They are still fluent English speakers.

And before you ask, Darren: no, I don't think millions of Euro of should be spent indulging - as I see it - Gaelic enthusiasts. And I don't think Gaelic should be used to delay or complicate the legal process, simply because I don't believe is in the public interest. I think that's exactly the "type of thing" that causes resentment in the first place.

Anyway, do you seriously believe that someone brought up in Tallaght will "speak Irish better than English"?