The Irish language on Saturday received a New Year boost from the European Union when its upgrade to a working language of the 27-member bloc took effect.
The move, which comes nearly 49 years after Ireland first joined the European Economic Community (EEC), the predecessor of the EU, means all documents produced by the EU will also be translated into Irish.
When Ireland first joined, Irish was listed as a treaty language, meaning that only EU treaties had to be translated into Irish. However, any EU resident had the right to correspond with EU institutions in Irish.
The EU granted Irish working language status in 2007 but a shortage of translation staff and technological resources meant the status was derogated and only a limited number of documents were translated until now, according to a press release from the Irish government.
Irish President Michael D Higgins said the EU’s upgrade of Irish was recognition of “our specific identity as a people with a distinctive language of our own that we use alongside all the other languages we use and respect.”
Hope for ‘renaissance’ of Irish
Irish Minister of State for Europe Thomas Byrne said the change of status gave hope for a potential renaissance of
the Irish language.
It was “fitting that it is happening this year, a year when we will also mark the historic 50 year anniversary since Ireland signed the Treaty of Accession to the European Communities,” Byrne was cited by the Irish Times as saying.
Minister for the Irish speaking Gaeltacht regions Jack Chambers said the move means “Irish is now on a par with other official and working EU languages and this will strengthen the relationship between citizens and European administrative systems.”
There are currently 170 Irish language staff in the European institutions and about 30 more staff will shortly be recruited, according to the Irish government.
According to the European Commission, which employs 2,000 translators, the cost for all 24 official languages is €349 million ($395 million) a year, or about 0.2% of the total budget.
Daily domestic use remains low
Both Irish and English are official languages of the Republic of Ireland, but Irish is spoken by just a third of the 4.9 million population.
The Irish government is keen to ensure Irish continues to be used by future generations and the language is compulsory in schools.
Ideological support for the Irish language remains strong, but routine use remains low. An estimated 70,000 people use it every day. Most live in the west of the country, in districts known collectively as the Gaeltacht.
Two Irish-language newspapers closed nearly a decade ago, but the Irish Times publishes two pages in Irish every day, and there are radio and television stations in Irish.
Irish is one of three Gaelic languages along with Scottish Gaelic and Manx, which is spoken on the Isle of Man.
It also benefits from protective measures under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.
With material from dpa news agency