Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Bill 2007: Second Stage.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Seanad Eireann Debate
Vol. 189 No. 14

First Page Previous Page Page of 10 Next Page Last Page

Question proposed: “That the Bill be now read a Second Time.”

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív): Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  Tááthas orm, thar ceann an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí, an díospóireacht ar Bhille na nDlí-Chleachtóirí (An Ghaeilge) 2007 a thosú agus príomh-fhorálacha an Bhille a leagan amach. Is é cuspóir an Bhille seo, a chuirfear in áit in ionad na forálacha reachtúla atá ann faoi láthair i dtaca le hinniúlacht Ghaeilge d’abhcóidí agus d’aturnaetha, ná go mbainfeadh lucht cleachta dlíúsáide níos fearr as an nGaeilge agus go gcuirfí seirbhísí dlíthiúla ar fáil trí Ghaeilge. Go háirithe, ceanglaítear leis an mBille ar Chumann Onórach Óstaí an Rí agus ar Dhlí-Chumann na hÉireann, le linn dóibh abhcóidí agus aturnaetha faoi sheach a oiliúint, aird a thabhairt ar stádas na Gaeilge mar phríomh-theanga oifigiúil an Stáit, agus bearta réasúnacha a ghlacadh chun a chinntiú go mbeidh líon dóthanach abhcóidí agus aturnaetha ábalta an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge.

Foráiltear leis an mBille go mbunóidh Cumann Onórach Óstaí an Rí agus an Dlí-Chumann cúrsa teagaisc ar théarmaíocht dhlíthiúil na Gaeilge agus ar thuiscint téacsanna dlíthiúla sa Ghaeilge do gach duine a bheidh ag freastal ar an gcúrsa céime abhcóide dlí agus ar chúrsa cleachtais ghairmiúil an dlí-chumainn. Tá sé réasúnach go mbeifí ag súil leis go mbeadh cur amach ag na gairmithe dlí go léir ar an mbun-téarmaíocht dhlíthiúil sa Ghaeilge. Is amhlaidh atá ach go háirithe i gcás aturnaetha, arb iad an chéad phointe teagmhála — agus an t-aon phointe teagmhála, go minic — a bhíonn ag formhór na ndaoine leis an gcóras dlí.

Ceanglaítear, freisin, ar Óstaí an Rí agus ar an dlí-chumann ard-chúrsaí staidéir sa Ghaeilge a bhunú i gcomhair oiliúnaithe agus scrúduithe a chur ar siúl ar an gcúrsa sin uair sa bhliain ar a laghad. Tá sé ceaptha go gcuirfidh na hard-chúrsaí ar chumas abhcóidí agus aturnaetha an réimse iomlán seirbhísí dlíthiúla a sholáthar trí Ghaeilge. Ina theannta sin, foráiltear leis an mBille go gcuirfear cláir ar fáil don phobal, ar chláir iad atá le bunú agus le cothabháil ag Óstaí an Rí agus ag an dlí-chumann, ina dtabharfar sonraí teagmhála na gcleachtóirí sin a n-éiríonn leo i scrúduithe an ard-chúrsa agus atáábalta seirbhísí dlíthiúla a chur ar fáil trí Ghaeilge.

I láthair na huaire, déantar socrú maidir le ceanglais Ghaeilge le haghaidh abhcóidí san Acht Lucht Cleachtuithe Dlí (Cáilíocht), 1929. Foráiltear le hAcht 1929 nach bhféadfaidh an Príomh-Bhreitheamh a cheadú d’aon duine cleachtadh mar abhcóide dlí i gcúirteanna na hÉireann mura mbeidh an Príomh-Bhreitheamh sásta, ó chibé fianaise a ordóidh an Príomh-Bhreitheamh, go bhfuil go leor eolas ag an duine sin ar an nGaeilge. Mínítear “leor-eolas” mar an méid sin oilteachta i labhairt agus i scríobh na Gaeilge agus is leor chun a chur ar chumas cleachtóra dlí, le héifeacht, treoracha a ghlacadh, comhairle a thabhairt do chliaint, finnéithe a cheistiú agus imeachtaí sa Ghaeilge a thuiscint.

Cé gur ar an bPríomh-Bhreitheamh atá an oibleagáid inniúlacht sa Ghaeilge a chinntiú i gcás aon abhcóide ar mhian leis nó léi go ndéanfaíé nóí a ghlaoch chun an Bharra, níl aon cheanglas ann an Ghaeilge a áireamh mar ábhar roghnach nóéigeantach i gcúrsa céime abhcóide dlíÓstaí an Rí. Déantar aon teagasc nó taifead ar inniúlacht atá ag teastáil a thabhairt lasmuigh den chúrsa céime, agus déantar é a shocrú ionas gur féidir leis an bPríomh-Bhreitheamh a fheidhm nó a feidhm reachtúil, dá bhforáiltear leis an Acht Lucht Cleachtuithe Dlí (Cáilíocht) 1929, a chomhall. Tá an tAire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí den tuairim nár cheart go leanfadh an Príomh-Bhreitheamh d’fheidhm den sórt sin a bheith aige nó aici. [722] Tá Príomh-Bhreitheamh i ndiaidh Príomh-Bhreithimh tar éis an tuairim sin a nochtadh le blianta beaga anuas. Déantar socrú leis an mBille chun Acht 1929 a aisghairm agus chun forálacha atá níos nua-aimseartha a chur ina ionad.

Tá an Rialtas agus an tAire, an Teachta Dermot Ahern, ar aon intinn gur féidir na socruithe atá ann faoi láthair a fheabhsú, d’fhonn a chinntiú go mbeidh daoine ar mhian leo a gceart bunreachtúil a fheidhmiú, chun Gaeilge a úsáid in imeachtaí os comhair na gcúirteanna, ábalta sin a dhéanamh. Cuirfidh na forálacha atá sa Bhille feabhas ar an scéal, trí chur leis an oiliúint sa Ghaeilge d’abhcóidí, agus gur cheart go gcinnteoidís go mbeadh líon níos mó abhcóidí inniúil sa Ghaeilge.

Bhí feidhm ag an Acht Lucht Cleachtuithe Dlí (Cáilíocht) 1929 maidir le haturnaetha go dtí gur tugadh socruithe nua isteach san Acht Aturnaethe 1954. Le cáiliú chun a nglactha mar aturnaetha, ceanglaítear le hAcht 1954 ar mhic léinn dhá scrúdú sa Ghaeilge a dhéanamh. Baineann an chéad scrúdú le daoine atá ag iarraidh dul faoi cheangal dintiúirí printíseachta, agus baineann an dara scrúdú le daoine ar mhian leo go ndéanfaí iad a ghlacadh mar aturnaetha. Is é is cuspóir don dara scrúdú a chinntiú“go bhfuil eolas inniúil ar an nGaeilge ag daoine a ghnóthós é, is é sin le rá, an inniúlacht sin ar labhairt agus ar scríobh na teangan is leor chun a chur ar chumas aturnae, le héifeacht, teagasc a ghlacadh, cliaint a chomhairliú, finnéithe a cheistiú, agus imeachtaí a thuiscint i nGaeilge”. Is ionann an tástáil inniúlachta seo agus an ceann a húsáidtear in Acht 1929 i gcomhair abhcóidí.

Léiríonn an Bille, arna leasú sa Dáil, stádas bunreachtúil na Gaeilge mar phríomh-theanga oifigiúil an Stáit. Cuireann Airteagal 8 den Bhunreacht dualgas ar an Stát a chinntiú gur féidir le saoránaigh feidhm a bhaint as a gceart bunreachtúil chun Gaeilge a úsáid in imeachtaí os comhair na gcúirteanna. Tugtar feidhm, i bhfoirm reachtúil, le halt 8 d’Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003 do na cearta bunreachtúla sin. Foráiltear leis go bhféadfaidh duine ceachtar de na teangacha oifigiúla a húsáid in aon chúirt, aon phléadáil in aon chúirt, nó aon doiciméad a eiseofar ó aon chúirt. Foráiltear leis, ina dhiaidh sin, go gcaithfidh gach cúirt a chinntiú nach gcuirfear aon duine faoi mhí-bhuntáiste as siocair na teanga a roghnaíonn sé nó sí, agus go bhféadfaidh sí a ordú go ndéanfar aistriúchán comhuaineach ó theanga amháin go dtí an teanga eile a chur ar fáil. Chomh maith leis sin, i gcás inar páirtí in imeachtaí sibhialta comhlacht Stáit nó comhlacht poiblí, déanfaidh an Stát nó an comhlacht poiblí an teanga oifigiúil a bheidh roghnaithe ag an bpáirtí eile a húsáid. Is gá athchóiriú ar an dlí a bhreithniú i bhfianaise na gceanglas bunreachtúil agus reachtúil sin. Is fearr a thabharfaidh an Bille seo aghaidh ar na ceanglais sin ná na socruithe reachtúla reatha.

Ba mhaith liom an deis a thapú chun beartas an Rialtais i dtaca leis an dátheangachas a leagan amach. D’fhoilsigh an Rialtas a ráiteas i leith na Gaeilge i mí na Nollag 2006. Déantar socrú leis an ráiteas maidir le straitéis 20 bliain don Ghaeilge a fhorbairt, bunaithe ar na cuspóirí atá leagtha amach sa ráiteas. Tá sé i gceist go mbeidh an ráiteas beartais ón Rialtas ina bhunsraith le haghaidh gníomhaíochta praiticiúla chun tacú leis an nGaeilge agus chun í a chur chun cinn, bunaithe ar chur chuige nua-aimseartha agus ar straitéis chomhtháite. Is é beartas an Rialtais feasacht agus úsáid na Gaeilge mar theanga phobail a mhéadú ar bhonn céimnithe. Is í a shain-aidhm ná a chinntiú go mbeidh a oiread dár saoránaigh agus is féidir dátheangach, sa Ghaeilge agus sa Bhéarla. Níl ar intinn againn leis seo ionad an Bhéarla a ghlacadh, ach an Ghaeilge a neartú. Is gnáth-rud é i go leor tíortha Eorpacha go mbíonn daoine dátheangach. Fís dá samhail atá san fhís d’Éirinn, leis an mBéarla agus an Ghaeilge araon á n-úsáid go forleathan, ar bhonn laethúil, ar fud na tíre. Tá sain-chomhairleoirí ceaptha ag mo Roinn chun comhairle a thabhairt i leith na straitéise. Tá sraith cruinnithe poiblíá reáchtáil aici faoi láthair in ionaid éagsúla ar fud an Stáit chun deis a thabhairt do dhaoine leasmhara den phobal i [723]gcoitinne ionchur a bheith acu in ullmhú na straitéise 20 bliain. Meastar go mbeidh an straitéis curtha i gcrích faoi Nollaig 2008.

Is eol don Teach go ndearnadh teanga oibre agus oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh den Ghaeilge ar an gcéad lá d’Eanáir 2007. Ceanglaítear le nósanna imeachta an Aontais Eorpaigh go bhfíorófaí téacs tograí reachtacha sna teangacha oifigiúla go léir, lena n-áirítear an Ghaeilge, sula féidir leis an gComhairle agus le Parlaimint na hEorpa an reachtaíocht a ghlacadh. Tá comh-údarás ag reachtaíocht ón Aontas Eorpach sna teangacha oifigiúla go léir de chuid an Chomhphobail. I gcás gan na téacsanna a bheith de réir a chéile, ní neamh-ghnách comparáid a dhéanamh idir na téacsanna, go háirithe in imeachtaí Chúirt Bhreithiúnais na hEorpa. Tááthas orm a thuairisciú go ndearna Óstaí an Rí, le tacaíocht ó mo Roinn, cúrsa oiliúna spriocdhírithe a fhorbairt, atá ceaptha chun a chur ar chumas rannpháirtithe bheith ina ndlí-theangeolaithe sa Ghaeilge. Reáchtáladh an cúrsa 16 seachtaine seo den chéad uair i 2007, agus tairgeadh poist sa Bhruiséil do roinnt de na daoine a ghlac páirt ann agus ar éirigh leo. Tá an cúrsa seo le bheith ann arís níos déanaí i mbliana. Tuigtear dom, freisin, go bhfuil Óstaí an Rí— arís, le tacaíocht ó mo Roinn — ag obair ar chúrsa abhcóide dlí a mhúinfear go hiomlán trí Ghaeilge a fhorbairt.

Tá príomh-fhorálacha an Bhille in ailt 1 agus 2. Baineann alt 1 le forálacha i gcomhair abhcóidí dlí. Foráiltear leis an talt go dtabharfaidh comhairle Óstaí an Rí aird ar stádas na Gaeilge mar phríomh-theanga oifigiúil an Stáit, agus go ndéanfaidh sí gach beart réasúnach chun a chinntiú go mbeidh líon dóthanach abhcóidí dlí inniúil sa Ghaeilge ionas go mbeidh siad ábalta an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge chomh maith lena chleachtadh trí Bhéarla. Tá sé sin in alt 1(2). Tá sé tábhachtach go mbeadh sain-chúrsaí sa Ghaeilge ar fáil do gach gairmí dlí, cuma an mian nó nach mian leis nó léi an dlí a chleachtadh tríd an teanga. Ar an ábhar sin, foráiltear le halt 1(3) go gcuirfidh Óstaí an Rí cúrsa teagaisc ar théarmaíocht dhlíthiúil na Gaeilge agus ar thuiscint téacsanna dlíthiúla sa Ghaeilge ar fáil do gach duine a bheidh ag freastal ar an gcúrsa céime abhcóide dlí. Tá an cúrsa ceaptha a chur ar chumas cleachtóirí cineál na seirbhíse dlíthiúla a bheidh ag teastáil a shainaithint agus, más cuí, tarchur chuig cleachtóir a bheidh inniúil ar sheirbhís a chur ar fáil trí Ghaeilge a éascú. Ní bheidh an cúrsa faoi réir scrúdaithe. Leasaíodh alt 1(3)(a) den Bhille sa Dáil chun soiléireacht a sholáthar ar an bpointe sin.

Foráiltear le halt 1(4) go soláthróidh comhairle Óstaí an Rí ard-chúrsa ar chleachtadh an dlí trí Ghaeilge mar ábhar roghnach sa chúrsa abhcóide dlí. Cuirfidh sé seo ard-oiliúint sa Ghaeilge ar fáil do na daoine ar mhian leo an dlí a chleachtadh trí mheán na Gaeilge. Beidh an t-ard-chúrsa ar oscailt do dhaoine eile, nach mic léinn iad, ach ar mhian leo inniúlacht a bhaint amach a chuirfidh ar a gcumas an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge — alt 1(5). Tá sé den riachtanas a chinntiú go mbeadh leibhéal réasúnach cumais agus inniúlachta sa Ghaeilge ag daoine a bheidh ag déanamh iarratais chun fáil isteach ar an ard-chúrsa sa Ghaeilge, sula ndéanann siad an cúrsa. Ar an ábhar sin, foráiltear le halt 1(6) go bhféadfaidh sé go gceanglófar ar na daoine sin a léiriú d’Óstaí an Rí go bhfuil leibhéal ginearálta cumais agus inniúlachta acu sa Ghaeilge cheana féin. Ár ndóigh, caithfidh meicníocht éigin a bheith ann trínar féidir cumas daoine a mbeidh an t-ard-chúrsa sa Ghaeilge curtha i gcrích acu a thomhas. Chuige sin, foráiltear le halt 1(7) go gcuirfidh Óstaí an Rí scrúdú ar siúl i gcleachtadh an dlí trí Ghaeilge uair sa bhliain ar a laghad.

Ní cheadófar ach do na daoine sin a mbeidh an t-ard-chúrsa déanta acu an scrúdú a dhéanamh — alt 1(8). Tá sé tábhachtach go gcuirfear in iúl don phobal go bhfuil ar chumas cleachtóirí dlíáirithe seirbhísí dlíthiúla a chur ar fáil trí Ghaeilge. Mar sin, foráiltear le halt 1(9) go ndéanfaidh Óstaí an Rí clár, ar a dtabharfar “clár na Gaeilge (Óstaí an Rí)”, a bhunú agus a chothabháil. Foráiltear le halt 1(10) go ndéanfaidh Comhairle Óstaí an Rí ainm agus sonraí teagmhála abhcóidí dlí a bheidh éirithe leo sa scrúdú a thaifeadadh sa chlár. Foráiltear le halt 1(11) go [724]gcaithfear an clár a choimeád cothrom le dáta agus go gcaithfear cóip den chlár a chur ar fáil don dlí-chumann. De réir alt 1(12), ní mór an clár a bheith ar oscailt don phobal freisin agus a bheith foilsithe ar láithreán gréasáin Óstaí an Rí. De thoradh na bhforálacha seo, craobh-scaoilfear ábhar an chláir agus tuigfear é a bheith ann chomh forleathan agus is féidir. Ar deireadh, foráiltear le halt 1(13) go ndéanfar tuarascáil a chur faoi bhráid an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí— tá an ainm sin uafásach fada — ar bhonn bliantúil i dtaca le hoibriú an ailt sa bhliain roimhe sin. Tá sé tábhachtach go gcoimeádfaí an tOireachtas ar an eolas maidir le hoibriú na socruithe nua. Tar éis Chéim na Tuarascála sa Dáil, leasaíodh alt 1(13)(c) den Bhille chun socrú a dhéanamh maidir leis an tuarascáil bhliantúil a leagan faoi bhráid dhá Theach an Oireachtais.

Baineann alt 2 den Bhille le hinniúlacht Ghaeilge d’aturnaetha. Déantar fo-alt nua — alt 40(2A) — a chur isteach in alt 40 den Acht Aturnaethe 1954. Ceann de chuspóirí an Bhille ná an chomh-sheasmhacht a choinneáil sna ceanglais reachtúla maidir le hinniúlacht sa Ghaeilge don dhá ghéag de ghairm an dlí, ionas go mbeidh na forálacha a bhaineann le haturnaetha ar aon dul, tríd is tríd, leis na forálacha a bhaineann le habhcóidí. Go bunúsach, déanann alt 2 na forálacha atá in alt 1 a scáthánú. Foráiltear le halt 2 go dtabharfaidh an dlí-chumann aird ar stádas na Gaeilge mar phríomh-theanga oifigiúil an Stáit agus go ndéanfaidh sé gach beart réasúnach chun a chinntiú go mbeidh líon dóthanach aturnaetha in ann an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge. Ina theannta sin, cuirfidh an dlí-chumann cúrsa ar siúl ar théarmaíocht dhlíthiúil na Gaeilge chun a chur ar chumas cleachtóirí cineál na seirbhíse a bheidh á lorg a shainaithint agus, más cuí, tarchur chuig cleachtóir a bheidh inniúil ar sheirbhís a chur ar fáil trí Ghaeilge a éascú.

Maidir le daoine a bheidh ag gabháil do chúrsa cleachtais ghairmiúil an dlí-chumainn agus a bheidh, ar dháta thosach feidhme an ailt, éirithe leo sa dá scrúdú sa Ghaeilge, dá bhforáiltear le rialacháin arna ndéanamh faoi alt 40(3) den Acht Aturnaethe 1954, measfar go mbeidh siad tar éis freastal ar an gcúrsa ar an téarmaíocht dhlíthiúil. Ar aon dul leis na forálacha a bhaineann le habhcóidí, i gcomhair na n-aturnaetha sin faoi oiliúint ar mhian leo cleachtadh trí Ghaeilge, foráiltear leis an talt go gcinnteoidh an dlí-chumann go n-áireofar ard-chúrsa ar chleachtadh an dlí trí Ghaeilge mar ábhar roghnach i gcomhair daoine a bheidh ag gabháil don chúrsa cleachtais ghairmiúil. Beidh an t-ard-chúrsa seo ar oscailt do dhaoine eile nach mic léinn iad ach ar mhian leo inniúlacht a bhaint amach, a chuirfidh ar a gcumas an dlí a chleachtadh trí Ghaeilge. Féadfaidh sé go gceanglófar ar dhaoine a bheidh ag déanamh iarratais chun fáil isteach ar an ard-chúrsa sa Ghaeilge a léiriú don chumann go bhfuil leibhéal cumais agus inniúlachta acu sa Ghaeilge cheana féin.

Foráiltear go gcuirfidh an dlí-chumann scrúdú ar siúl i gcleachtadh an dlí trí Ghaeilge uair sa bhliain ar a laghad, ach nach gceadófar ach do na daoine sin a mbeidh an t-ard-chúrsa déanta acu an scrúdú a dhéanamh. Déanfaidh an dlí-chumann clár, ar a dtabharfar “clár na Gaeilge (an dlí-chumann)”, a bhunú agus a chothabháil freisin. Déanfaidh an cumann ainm agus sonraí teagmhála aturnaetha a bheidh éirithe leo sa scrúdú a thaifeadadh sa chlár. Cinnteoidh an cumann go ndéanfar an clár a choimeád cothrom le dáta, agus go gcuirfear cóip den chlár ar fáil d’Óstaí an Rí. Ní mór don chlár a bheith ar oscailt don phobal freisin agus a bheith foilsithe ar láithreán gréasáin an dlí-chumann. Déanfar tuarascáil a chur faoi bhráid an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí ar bhonn bliantúil, i dtaca le hoibriú an ailt sa bhliain roimhe sin. Leagfar an tuarascáil sin faoi bhráid dhá Theach an Oireachtais. Déantar an fhoráil atá in alt 40(3) den Acht Aturnaethe 1954 faoi láthair a scriosadh.

Leasaítear alt 43(4) den Acht Aturnaethe 1954 le halt 3, ionas nach mbeidh ar abhcóide cleachtach, atá ag iarraidh trasnú chun cleachtadh mar aturnae, cúrsa teagaisc an dlí-chumainn ar théarmaíocht dhlíthiúil na Gaeilge a dhéanamh, toisc cúrsa dá shamhail a bheith curtha i [725]gcrích aige nó aici roimhe sin, le linn dó nó di bheith ag freastal ar chúrsa céime abhcóide dlíÓstaí an Rí. Tá gá leis an bhforáil seo toisc an cúrsa sa téarmaíocht dhlíthiúil a bheith éigeantach do na daoine go léir a bheidh ag iarraidh go ligfear dóibh cleachtadh mar aturnaetha.

Foráiltear le halt 4 den Bhille go n-aisghairtear an tAcht Lucht Cleachtuithe Dlí (Cáilíocht) 1929. Tar éis leasuithe sa Dáil, déantar socrú leis, maidir le hais-ghairm alt 40(6) den Acht Aturnaethe 1954, lena bhforáiltear nach mór don Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta ceapachán scrúdaitheora sa Ghaeilge ag an dlí-chumann a cheadú. Ceanglaítear ar an dlí-chumann agus ar Óstaí an Rí araon, le halt 2A(2)(m) agus le halt 1(13) den Bhille, faoi sheach, tuarascáil a thabhairt don Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí ar oibriú na socruithe nua. Sa chomhthéacs seo, ní gá a thuilleadh go mbeadh aon ról ag an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíochta i gceapadh scrúdaitheoirí de chuid an dlí-chumainn sa Ghaeilge.

Déantar socrú le halt 4 maidir le hais-ghairm Alt 43(2) den Acht Aturnaethe 1954, arna ionadú le halt 51 den Acht Aturnaetha (Leasú), 1994. Áiríodh alt 43(2) in Acht 1994 chun cúrsaí printíseachta agus oideachais a rialáil, go dtí go ndéanfadh an dlí-chumann rialacháin mhionsonraithe. Meastar le halt 43(8) d’Acht 1994 go n-aisghairtear alt 43(2) le teacht i ngníomh do na rialacháin sin. Táábhairín éiginnteachta ann faoi seo, de dheasca fhorléiriú neamhghnách na bhforálacha sin. Mar sin, ar mhaithe leis an gcinnteacht, soiléirítear le halt 4(c) den Bhille go n-aisghairtear alt 43(2). Is foráil chaighdeánach atá in alt 5, lena ndéileáiltear le gearrtheideal an Bhille, le forálacha maidir le tosach feidhme, agus leis an gcomhlua.

Tá an Rialtas agus an tAire, an Teachta Dermot Ahern, ar aon intinn gur féidir na socruithe reachtúla atá ann faoi láthair a fheabhsú chun freastail ar an gcuspóir, deimhin a dhéanamh de gur féidir le daoine ar mhian leo a gceart bunreachtúil chun Gaeilge a húsáid in imeachtaí os comhair na gcúirteanna, déanamh amhlaidh. Déanfaidh na forálacha atá sa Bhille cúrsaí a fheabhsú, trí chur leis an oiliúint sa Ghaeilge d’abhcóidí agus d’aturnaetha araon agus gur cheart go gcinnteoidís inniúlacht sa Ghaeilge do líon níos mó gairmithe dlí ná mar a sholáthraítear leis na socruithe reachtúla atá ann faoi láthair. Thar ceann an Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí, molaim an Bille don Teach. Tá súil agam go bhfuil na Seanadóirí in ann cuimhne ar na hailt go léir a luaigh mé.

Senator Eugene Regan: Information on Eugene Regan  Zoom on Eugene Regan  Cuirim fáilte roimh an mBille. Gabhaim buíochas leis an tAire as ucht na reachtaíochta seo a chur os comhair an tSeanaid agus a mhíniú.

The Bill is being introduced in the context of the official recognition in the European Union of Gaeilge as an official and working language of the Union. The basic purpose is that there be an adequate number of barristers and solicitors capable of practising law in the language and that, in general, the professions have an adequate knowledge to deal with documents in Irish.

Fine Gael welcomes the Bill. The way it is structured in terms of the provision of a basic course and an advanced course by the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland and King’s Inns accommodates different views on the way the matter is dealt with. I am aware it allays many of the concerns of a number of groups which are anxious that there will be offered at least a basic course in Irish. In practising in the Law Library I am always surprised by the number of barristers with total proficiency in the language and who regularly act in cases held through Irish. On the capacity of the Bar, I can vouch for some outstanding barristers who are capable of fulfilling the objective of the legislation.

I have one question for the Minister. We have a situation where one can qualify as a barrister without necessarily sitting an examination in the language. There are some who have passed the examination but have not sat the examination in Irish or perhaps have failed an examination either in the Law Society of Ireland or King’s Inns. Are they being accommodated? Is there [726]an element of retrospection to deal with the few qualified lawyers who have been caught, as it were, by their lack of proficiency in the language?

I note the case of Dr. Art Cosgrave, the former president of University College Dublin, who in a sense was a conscientious objector in sitting the examination last year and wonder whether that type of case can be or has been addressed by the Minister. That is the only question I have about the Bill. In general, I am happy with its construction and formulation.

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire, an Teachta Ó Cuív. Tréaslaím leis de bharr a bheith ceaptha mar Aire arís. Tááthas mór orm go bhfuil stádas á thabhairt don Ghaeilge sa Bhille seo. Thug an Taoiseach spreagadh mór don Ghaeilge le déanaí.

With my colleague, I too support the Bill. I am delighted the Minister, Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív, is present in the House again, as he has a natural love of the Irish language. Within the Law Society of Ireland and the King’s Inns there is a further effort to promote the use of the Irish language among practising barristers and solicitors. The Bill is a step in the right direction and a further recognition that the Irish language is an official language within the European Union. It is another reason those who love and promote the Irish language should vote “Yes” in the Lisbon treaty referendum.

When I was in college, I travelled to London every year to work on the building sites with men from Connemara, County Kerry and throughout Ireland to make some money. It was hard work but it paved the way for another year in college. The venue in Blackhall Place was not used at the time, in 1973 or 1974. When we did our degree course, we had to do a first, second and third law examination before we would be entertained in seeking an apprenticeship but that has changed since, for the better. I was called in to do the Irish examination. My mother — God be good to her — telephoned my brother and I had to return some time in the month of July to sit the examination. The venue in Blackhall Place was not used at the time. It was probably in Earlsfort Terrace.

I was reasonably fluent in Irish when I had done my leaving certificate, having attended Coláiste an Chroí Naofa, Carraig na bhFear. For my sins my Irish has got rusty, but I was involved at the time with Conradh na Gaeilge, with the headquarters in Harcourt Street. I arrived to do the examination for which I had done no preparation. I recall that the flight from Gatwick Airport to Dublin was £9. When I arrived to do the examination, in front of me were two black Africans, without, God bless them, a notion of the Irish language. Whatever chance I had, from the Sheepshead peninsula, these boys from the Cape of Good Hope, or wherever, had a good deal less, I surmised. I believe it was a written and an oral examination, and I was reasonably flaithiúil with the language then. After about five minutes, the examiner, presumably from the Gaeltacht area of west Cork, either from Coolea or Ballingeary, which was quite close to me, showed me the door on the basis that I had more Irish than he had, which was probably true at the time. Afterwards I was wondering how the other two had got on. That was more than 30 years ago.

The thrust of this whole debate is to raise the bar as far as the Irish language is concerned within the Law Society’s school, Blackhall Place, and also in King’s Inns. I am delighted that within the last two or three years it was decided that the Blackhall Place course can now be done in Cork. My son will be starting his apprenticeship, hopefully, within the next three months, and he will be able to fulfil the first and advanced courses of Blackhall Place in Cork. That is a major saving for people from rural Ireland and perhaps if it succeeds in Cork it could be replicated in Galway, to support the people in the west of Ireland, and so on.

AT NUI Cork, there is a course for the BCL degree as Gaeilge. I was fortunate enough to chair the Joint Committee on the Constitution in the five-year period until 2002. Prior to that, [727]when it was chaired by Deputy Brian Lenihan, we visited NUI Cork. One of the reports of the committee had been published as Gaeilge and we presented it to some of the students we met. Some 23 students at the time were studying law and they were all studying Irish. I presume it could be done with French, German and other languages too. Nonetheless, it was great that they had the option of doing the BCL degree while at the same time furthering their knowledge of the Irish language. It was a wonderful development.

I have one question for the Minister, and perhaps he might not be able to answer it. I have no doubt, as my colleague, Senator Regan has indicated, that there is a growing number of practitioners both within the Law Society and at the Bar, who have a great love for Irish, and would wish to expand and extend it — using it in court work and in dealing with people generally. It must be the case in places such as the Dingle peninsula, Connemara and other parts, that people who have to attend court may want to defend themselves or be defended through Irish. This Bill gives enormous encouragement to such people. As somebody noted earlier, many people abandon the Irish language once they have taken the leaving certificate, which is a shame and a pity. I sometimes feel ashamed of that myself. Here we have an opportunity in that a platform is being given to the Irish. It is of critical importance, too, that there will be an official assessment and that the law lecturers, professors, etc., will be tested on their ability to deal with legal complexities and niceties through the Irish language. A register of such people is to be kept and it is not to be a hit and miss affair.

The other point I wanted to put to the Minister was whether sufficient members of the Judiciary can deal with cases through Irish, where somebody wants to exercise his or her constitutional right to be defended, or use the Irish language in advocacy through the courts. That is importance, since it would be a fatuous exercise, for instance if, say, only 15% of senior and junior counsel and also solicitors, were prepared to reach the necessary standard to use the language in the courtroom and advise clients in Irish. In the event, there might be a problem if sufficient judges, in the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court and Supreme Court did not have a facility in Irish at the required level. I am not accusing anyone, because I realise that there is an onus on High Court, and perhaps Supreme Court judges to have a great understanding of the Irish language.

This Bill is a step in the right direction and I am happy to support it. It is wonderful to see the Irish language getting a boost. I am pleased the new Taoiseach, Deputy Brian Cowen, has shown such great respect for the Irish language, as exemplified in his speech at Arbour Hill, on the day he was appointed Taoiseach and even on the day he was made leader of the Fianna Fáil parliamentary party, when he went back to Offaly. I believe it is an enormous fillip for the Irish language that the Taoiseach is taking a hands-on approach. He is giving a big boost to the language, which must have a knock-on effect.

I am also pleased to welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Jimmy Devins, to the Chamber, and wish him every success with his new brief and his transfer within the Department of Health and Children. This is a promotion within the ministerial ranks and I wish him luck.

I fully support the Bill and I hope it will get a speedy passage through the House.

An Leas-Chathaoirleach: Information on Paddy Burke  Zoom on Paddy Burke  I also congratulate Deputy Devins, and wish him well in his new portfolio.

Senator Joe O’Toole: Information on Joe John O'Toole  Zoom on Joe John O'Toole  Ba mhaith liom, chomh maith, fáilte a chur roimh an Aire Stáit nua agus comhghairdeas a ghabháil leis. Go n-éirí go maith leis ina jab nua. Cuirim fáilte ar leith roimh an mBille seo. Is mór an trua é go bhfuil an tAire, an Teachta Ó Cuív, imithe. Tá mé chun rud a rá anois nach bhfuil ráite agam le fada — go n-aontaím 100% leis an méid atáá mholadh aige inniu. Is minic a bímid in achrann agus ag argóint lena chéile. Tá mé thar a [728]bheith sásta leis an dul chun cinn atá déanta sa Bhille seo. An rud is tábhachtaí a bhaineann leis an mBille ná go bhfuil gluaiseacht ann óéiginnteacht go dtí roghnú. Beidh oibleagáid ar an bPríomh-Bhreitheamh a chinntiú go bhfuil Gaeilge ag daoine a bhfuil ag dul isteach i ngairm na habhcóide agus i ngnéithe eile don dlí. Ba mhaith liom scéal a insint mar gheall ar an am a bhí mé ag plé an ábhar seo le abhcóide ós na Stáit Aontaithe. Tar éis uair a’ chloig de mhúinteoireacht ó dhuine éigin, bhí an “bar” shroichte aige ó thaobh caighdeán na Gaeilge de agus bhí sé in ann dul isteach i ngairm na habhcóide. Ní raibh aon mhaitheas sa mhéid sin. Táimid ag tógaint isteach córas chun daoine le Gaeilge a roghnú chun a chuid oibre a dhéanamh sna cúirteanna agus, ar leith, ag plé le ghnáthdhaoine. Is é sin an rud is tábhachtaí.

Is é an rud is tábhachtaíó thaobh polasaithe Gaeilge an Stáit ná go mbeimid i gcónaí ag cur cleasanna, seifteanna nó polasaithe i bhfeidhm chun a chinntiú go bhfuil gnáthdhaoine in ann maireachtáil trí Ghaeilge. Ba chóir go mbeadh gach éinne — ag tosnú le muintir na Gaeltachta — in ann gach gné dá shaolta a dhéanamh trí Ghaeilge más mian leo. Is cuimhin liom nuair a bhí an iar-Aire Stáit, Dr. Tom Moffatt, ag caint sa Teach seo deich mbliana ó shin. Bhí an jab céanna aige an uair sin is atá ag an tAire Stáit, an Teachta Devins, anois. Bhí sé ag stiúradh reachtaíochta tríd an tSeanaid chun cumhacht a thabhairt don Stát daoine a chur go dtí ospidéil na meabhar i gcoinne a dtola. Gan amhras, bhí sé sin an-dheacair ó thaobh cearta sibhialta agus daonna de. Bhí an cheist á phlé againn anseo go mór. Bhíomar faoi oibleagáid ag an am sin, mar atáimid ina lán gnéithe de shaol na tíre, chun a dheimhniú go mbeadh cearta ar fáil ag daoine a thagann go dtí na tíre seo ó tíortha eile ina theanga dhúchais féin. An rud a bhí ag cur isteach orm ag an tam sin ná nach raibh na cearta céanna a bhíá gcur ar fáil againn d’iad siúd a gcuirfí isteach in ospidéal na meabhar i gcoinne a dtola ar fáil do mhuintir na Gaeltachta. Mhol mé gur chóir dúinn an reachtaíocht a leasú chun go mbeadh ceartanna áirithe curtha go soiléir, scríofa nó labhartha, os comhair na ndaoine sin. Ní raibh an Rialtas sásta nó in ann aontú liom sa mhéid sin.

Tá sé sin tábhachtach mar gur cheart dúinn bheith in ann déileála le daoine ina theanga féin nuair atá siad faoi bhrú— mar shampla, nuair a bhíonn mearbhall orthu ag am mar sin. Dá bhrí sin, tá an méid atá sa Bhille seo thar a bheith tábhachtach — níos tábhachtaí ná a lán de na rudaíéiginnteach a bhaineann leis na polasaithe atá againn. Táimid ag caint mar gheall ar dhaoine atá ag déanamh a gcuid oibre trí Ghaeilge agus ag tabhairt seirbhís Ghaeilge do Gaeilgeoirí agus mhuintir na Gaeltachta. Sa mhéid sin, tá sé thar a bheith tábhachtach. Tá sé ceart go mbeadh sé ann agus go mbeadh an rud céanna ann i mórchuid gnéithe éagsúla den saol. Bíonn rudaí den tsórt seo á mholadh ag an gCoimisinéir Teanga agus ba chóir dúinn iad a mholadh freisin. Is sampla é seo den sórt dul chun cinn phroifisiúnta agus phraiticiúil gur féidir linn a chur i bhfeidhm. Níl sé chun brú a chur ar éinne nó cur isteach ar cheartanna éinne. Tá sé in am dúinn tacaíocht a thabhairt dóibh siúd a bhfuil compordach i n-úsáid na Gaeilge. Sa mhéid sin, tá sé tábhachtach go mbeidh muid in ann agus sásta tacú leo.

Tá a lán gnéithe tábhachtacha eile de shaol na tíre le plé, mar shampla, scoileanna na Gaeltachtaí, idir bhunscoileanna agus meánscoileanna, ó thaobh múinteoirí cabhracha de. Le fada, níl achmhainní ar fáil do na múinteoirí seo. Níl cláir oibre nó modhanna oibre i nGaeluinn, atá dírithe ar mhuintir na Gaeltachta, ar fáil dóibh. Is mór an trua é sin. Níos tábhachtaí fós, aon uair a bhíonn ar scoil Ghaeltachta pháiste a chur faoi athbhreithniú síceolaíochta, déantar an athbhreithniú ar fad trí Bhéarla. Conas is féidir athbhreithniú síceolaíochta sásúil a dhéanamh ar pháiste gan é a dhéanamh ina theanga dhúchais? Sin gnáth rud a tharlaíonn seachtain i ndiaidh seachtaine i scoileanna Gaeltachta agus is léiriúé ar ghné eile den fhadhb.

Tá an méid atá sa Bhille seo praiticiúil, réasúnta, soiléir agus indéanta agus beidh sé furasta é a chur chun cinn. Tá se thar a bheith tábhachtach go mbeidh daoine óga ó na Gaeltachtaí nóó scoileanna lán-Ghaeilge in ann, don chéad uair riamh, freastal ar chúrsa triú leibhéal chun [729]bheith ina abhcóide nó dlíodóir agus a gcuid oibre nó céatadán maith de a dhéanamh trí Ghaeluinn. Níos tábhachtaí fós, beidh téarmaíocht á bhunú agus á fhorbairt go leanúnach acu tríúsáid na bhfocal nua sa téarmaíocht nua. Nuair a bhíonn reachtaíocht agus dlithe á phlé againn anseo, ní bhíonn an téarmaíocht nua againn i gcónaí. Mar shampla, déarfainn nach bhfuil Gaeilge againn anseo ar choireanna ar leith. Cinnte, nuair a éisteann muid ar maidin le Raidió na Gaeltachta nó le TG4, cloiseann muid focail nua agus tuigeann muid céard atá i gceist, ach de gnáth, is focail iad nach raibh riamh cloiste againn cheana.

An rud is tábhachtaí atáá dhéanamh anseo ná go bhfuil muid ag tógaint ruda agus ag tabhairt beatha dó. Táimid ag cruthú cineál “living language” den dlí dóibh siúd atá ag cleachtadh dlí, idir abhcóidí agus dlíodóirí. N’fheadar an bhfuil aon rud níos tábhachtaí ná sin do mhuintir na Gaeltachtaí. Gan amhras, ní bheidh focal sna nuachtáin ar maidin faoin díospóireacht seo mar níl an t-ábhar seo tábhachtach do dhaoine tábhachtacha ar an taobh thoir den oileán seo. Ach, is ábhar an-tábhachtach é. B’fhéidir gur coiscéim bhig í, ach is coiscéim thar a bheith tábhachtach í. Is dul chun cinn tábhachtach é chomh maith. Is é an sórt ruda é a chuireann béim ar leith phraiticiúil agus réasúnta ar pholasaithe Gaeluinne, gur féidir linn cur i bhfeidhm a dhéanamh i leith na bpolasaithe sin. Is cur i bhfeidhm atá sa Bhille seo agus cuirim fáilte mór roimhe. Táim an-sásta tacaíocht a thabhairt dó.

Senator Lisa McDonald: Information on Lisa McDonald  Zoom on Lisa McDonald  Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire agus gabhaim comhghairdeas leis. Go n-éirí an t-ádh leis ina phost nua. Molaim an Seanadóir Ó Tuathail as a bheith in ann an Ghaeilge a stealladh le linn a chuid ama ag caint. Is cúis náire é domsa nach bhfuil mé in ann sin a dhéanamh. I am most embarrassed I cannot give my full speech in Irish. This is despite the fact that when I was in secondary school, I would have considered myself to have a líofacht sa teanga nach bhfuil agam inniu. As a practitioner, I would see the Bill as a serious improvement on the current situation. Making it optional to practise in Irish or to hold proficiency in Irish to practise as a barrister or solicitor will encourage the use of the language and of a culture of use of Irish throughout the professions. Perhaps it is more obvious in the Law Library and the Four Courts that barristers hold a certain grá don teanga than is perhaps the case in a solicitor’s profession. This could be because they accumulate in the one area more often.

If one were to examine the case of the typical law student, who would go from leaving certificate to university to study law and then onwards to either the Law Society or the King’s Inns, most of them at one stage in their lives would have had a high level of proficiency in the language which then erodes through lack of use. If there was encouragement to continue that, such as is provided in this Bill, and to sit examinations and the advanced courses that will be available in legal Irish, there would be a huge uptake. I look forward to reviewing the Bill in a couple of years when we will see the changes that have taken place.

When I was sitting the mandatory Irish exam for the Law Society, a friend of mine of Indian extraction learned off by heart an essay on lá faoin tuath, which had no relevance whatsoever to the practice of law but equally had no relevance to the question that was asked in the exam. Fair play to him. He went into the exam, wrote out the essay word perfect and passed the exam despite the fact it was about lá cois farraige, not lá faoin tuath.

The Bill is a welcome advance. As part of the bilingual policy from the Government, it will enhance the use of the Irish language. I come from an area in Loch Gorman where Gaeilge is not much used and one must go back many years to find Gaeltacht areas where it was spoken. Through the gaelscoileanna and people like Gizzy Lyng, the Wexford hurler who is able to commentate in Irish on TG4, we can now see an upsurge in the use of the language. Much of this is coming from the teaching profession. I look forward to the legal profession taking a role. The Bill will do much to help those people who at one time had proficiency in the language to maintain that and will encourage them to use it throughout their careers.

[730]What will happen with regard to solicitors and barristers who want to get back into the swing of things and become proficient in Irish? I did not notice any mechanism in the Bill whereby they could be retrained in the language. Also, if a barrister wanted to run a case through Irish, are there enough judges at all levels who are proficient in the language? There is an old Irish saying — mol an óige agus tiocfaidh sé. Today, we can say that. If we encourage Irish, it will work. Heretofore, we have made Irish mandatory but this has not worked. This is a new departure. I look forward to and support the implementation of the Bill.

Senator Alex White: Information on Alex White  Zoom on Alex White  Ba mhaith liom comhghairdeas a bhronnadh ar an Aire Stáit, an Teachta Devins, as ucht an phost nua atá bainte amach aige. Tá súil agam go n-éireoidh go maith leis sa jab nua sin. Is lá speisialta é inniu san Oireachtas ó thaobh na Gaeilge de. Bhí Deasún mac an Easpaig anseo ar maidin. Cé nach raibh mé i láthair ag na himeachtaí, tuigim gur ócáid an-taitneamhach a bhí ann. Ní chóir don tSeanadóir McDonald náire a bheith uirthi — ba cheart di bheith bróduil as an méid Gaeilge ata aici. Tá ceacht le foghlaim againn as ócáid na maidine — ba choir dúinn níos mó Gaeilge a úsáid sa Teach seo, chomh minic agus is féidir linn. Ní mór dúinn chance our arm a little bit more. Má dhéanfaimid é sin, b’fhéidir go rachfaidh ár gcuid Gaeilge i bhfeabhas.

Is ceart an-thábhachtach, atá ag gach duine sa tír, an ceart na Gaeilge a úsáid in imeachtaí os comhair na cúirte. Is fiú mórán an ceart sin. Caithfimid a bheith cinnte go bhfuil an tseirbhís sin le fáil sna cúirteanna ag gach éinne a theastaíonn uathu tairbhe a bhaint as. Ba chóir dúinn córas éifeachtach a chur i bhfeidhm. Caithfidh an chóras sin a bheith macánta freisin. Luaigh an tAire an Acht Lucht Cleachtuithe Dlí (Cáilíocht) 1929, a fhorálann gur chóir d’abhcóidí“leor-eolas” ar an dteanga a bheith acu. Mínítear “leor-eolas” san Acht sin mar an méid sin oilteachta i labhairt agus i scríobh na Gaeilge agus is leor chun a chur ar chumas cleachtóra dlí, le héifeacht, treoracha a ghlacadh, comhairle a thabhairt do chliaint, finnéithe a cheistiú agus imeachtaí sa Ghaeilge a thuiscint. Is abhcóide mé le blianta fada anuas agus dá bhrí sin, is féidir liom an cheist a chur — cé mhéad abhcóidí a bhfuil na scileanna sin acu, go macánta?

Aontaím leis an méid a bhí le rá ag an tSeanadóir Regan. Tá suim ag a lán abhcóidí sa Leabharlann Dlí sa Ghaeilge. Níl siad in ann cásanna a dhéanamh sna cúirteanna trí Ghaeilge mar níl an caighdeán oiriúnach acu. Tá sé ag roinnt abhcóidí, ach níl sé ag formhór dóibh. We must be honest about having a system in place that allows and provides for an efficient and reliable system to be available for people who wish to have their business in court conducted in Irish. There is little point in continuing with what in reality has been a fiction, as referred to by Senators McDonald and O’Toole. The fiction goes back to the 1929 Act where that system was put in place. For 80 years it simply has not been the reality at the level that was contemplated in 1929.

  4 o’clock

Rinne mé an scrúdú seo i 1987, nuair a bhí mé in Óstaí an Rí. Bhí olltoghchán ar siúl ag an am chéanna. Bhí mé ag obair in RTE ag an am sin. Tháinig na torthaí amach an lá tar éis an toghcháin. Ní raibh mórán ullmhúcháin déanta agam don scrúdú Gaeilge an lá chéanna. Chuaigh me isteach go dtíÓstaí an Rí ar mo rothar chun bualadh leis an scrúdaitheoir. Bhí an-suim aige sna torthaíó Chontae Maigh Eo. It may interest you in particular, a Leas-Chathaoirleach, that he was very keen to know what was happening with regard to the results in County Mayo. I have to tell you that ceapaim gur Fianna Fáiler a bhí ann, rather than a Fine Gaeler. Bhí an-suim aige sna torthaíó Chontae Maigh Eo. Bhí méábalta nuacht a thabhairt dó. I was able to give him news of his favourite candidate who he was watching out for. Bhí an-áthas air nuair a chuala sé an méid a bhí le rá agam. D’éirigh liom sa scrúdú Gaeilge. Ceapaim go raibh sé an-sásta leis an nuacht.Bhí sé an-sásta leis an nuacht agus ní raibh aon suim aige i mo chaighdeán Gaeilge. I was delighted to pass [731]the test but somewhat miffed to discover that my friend, who had never learned a single word of Irish ever because he had been given some sort of dispensation or exemption in school, passed with equally flying colours ten minutes later. This was the sort of fiction that was evident. Admittedly, this has improved in recent years. I agree very strongly with my colleagues’ point that we need to put in place a system that does justice to the language and makes presumptions about people’s knowledge thereof. As Senator McDonald rightly said, the system should encourage professional lawyers to learn Irish and reach a certain level of proficiency while at the same time favouring those who make an effort to reach a higher level.

There was some debate on a number of amendments tabled by my colleague, Deputy Brian O’Shea, in the Dáil. The then Minister of State, Deputy Carey, said that during Committee Stage in this House, he would return to some of the matters raised. Nuair a bheidh an díospóireacht againn, b’fhéidir go mbeidh further discussion againn on individuals who are already in the system, as touched upon by Senator Regan and others. I refer also to those who went through the system 30 or 40 years ago but who did not pass the test and were deprived of their qualification. I do not know why they did not have the same outcome as my friend who did not have a word of Irish. Perhaps they did not have the same examiner.

I welcome the basic thrust of the Bill. There is no question that it is progressive although there are a few issues I would like to revisit on Committee and Remaining Stages.

Senator Déirdre de Búrca: Information on Déirdre de Búrca  Zoom on Déirdre de Búrca  Tá brón orm freisin nach mbeidh mé in ann an Bille seo a phlé trí Ghaeilge. Ba mhaith liom go mbeadh mo chuid Gaeilge maith go leor chun é sin a dhéanamh ach níl sé. Mar sin de, caithfidh méé a phlé as Béarla. Unfortunately I do not feel my Irish is sufficiently proficient to discuss this Bill. However, Des Bishop visited the Houses of the Oireachtas today and showed us all how one can improve one’s level of Irish through total immersion. As a non-Irish person, he demonstrated the level of fluency that can be achieved. It is an example to us all and certainly one I hope to follow. Perhaps in the future, I will be in a position to discuss Bills such as the one before us through Irish.

We are all aware that Irish became an official language of the European Union on 1 January 2007. It is likely that people will avail of the facility to seek through Irish documents that emanate from the various EU institutions. It would be a sad state of affairs if the service available from the EU institutions were superior to that of our own legal system. This Bill will ensure the better use of the Irish language by legal practitioners and also the adequate provision of legal services through Irish.

The Bill will abolish the compulsory Irish language requirement for solicitors and barristers in training. It was required for barristers under the Legal Practitioners (Qualification) Act 1929, under which no one could be admitted to practise at the Bar without satisfying the Chief Justice that he or she had competent knowledge of Irish, which was defined as the ability to receive instructions and follow proceedings through Irish. This Bill, while removing the compulsory requirement, fulfils the Government’s commitment to taking all reasonable steps to ensure an adequate number of barristers at law are able to practice law through Irish. The Bill provides that King’s Inns, which provides training for barristers, will hold a course on Irish legal terminology and the understanding of legal texts in the Irish language for all students undertaking the barrister-at-law degree course. This will have the aim of enabling practitioners to identify the nature of the service being sought and, where appropriate, to facilitate a referral to a practitioner competent to provide a service through Irish.

The Bill provides that those studying for the barrister-at-law degree who have at the date of the repeal of the Legal Practitioners (Qualification) Act 1929 complied with the terms of section 3 of that Act shall be deemed to have attended the course on legal terminology. It also provides that the Council of King’s Inns will ensure an advanced course on the practice of law [732]through Irish will be included as an optional subject in the barrister-at-law course. In effect, we are replacing the old system with a system that will recognise two tiers of qualifications in the Irish language. We must recognise that many people now training as barristers and solicitors do not have a basic grounding in Irish and that this is putting an unacceptable onus on them to acquire apparent fluency in the language, which they do not have in reality, to be able to practice.

Conradh na Gaeilge has drawn attention to the fact that there is no proposed examination on completion of the course in legal terminology, which will be mandatory for all trainee barristers. It has made submissions to the effect that if there is no examination, it will command neither respect nor attention by comparison with those subjects that will require study and which it will be necessary to pass. We need to consider this. I do not know whether the Minister has a particular response but it is true that if there is no assessment of competency in respect of legal terminology in Irish, the subject may command no respect. Students may then attempt to circumvent the requirement to attend the course. What is the Minister’s view on this?

The position on solicitors is similar to that on barristers. Prior to the enactment of the Solicitors Act 1954, students were required to take two examinations in Irish, one at the apprentice stage and the second at qualification stage, to become a solicitor. The examinations consisted of written tests on prescribed texts that had nothing to do with the law and which were not conducted by the Law Society. We want to end such practices whereby students are taking courses that have little bearing on the kind of competency in Irish they are encouraged to acquire, be it basic or more advanced. The changes brought about by this Bill will require the Law Society to have regard to Government policy on bilingualism and take all reasonable steps to ensure an adequate number of solicitors are able to practise the law through the Irish language. The Law Society is required to hold a course on Irish legal terminology and the understanding of legal texts in the Irish language and, where appropriate, to facilitate referrals to practitioners competent to provide a service through Irish. The society is also required to ensure an advanced course on the practice of law through the Irish language will be included as an optional subject for those undertaking the professional practice course. This is all very reasonable and sensible and is to be welcomed.

The Green Party supports the Bill. However, Conradh na Gaeilge is concerned that some District Court and Circuit Court judges in Gaeltachtaí are not competent in the Irish language while others who are competent in the Irish language are in districts and circuits outside the Gaeltachtaí.

The organisations have pointed out that Gaeltacht cases are conducted at locations in the Gaeltacht or through English in the Gaeltacht itself, except in south Connemara. They believe this does not accord with Government policy on the fostering of Irish as the community language in the Gaeltacht. They have proposed that the Gaeltacht should be considered as an administrative unit, administered through Irish by people interested in so doing. This should apply to those judges who sit in courts on cases that relate to the Gaeltacht or which arise from Gaeltacht areas. I seek the Minister’s response in this regard. Has he given consideration to this issue, which has been raised by the aforementioned organisations? Does he consider that this Bill could attempt to rectify this issue?

Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs (Deputy Éamon Ó Cuív): Information on Éamon Ó Cuív  Zoom on Éamon Ó Cuív  I thank Members for their useful contributions. Senator Regan raised a question, which also was raised subsequently, about those individuals who did not qualify. I understand they were small in number. I listened to the anecdote told by my colleague, Senator Denis O’Donovan, and while I do not know what happened to the two people who were before him in the queue, it was [733]always said that the examination was not that difficult to pass. Never having sat the examination, I cannot give a judgment in this regard.

Regarding those who have completed their legal training without meeting the statutory Irish language requirement and who have not been admitted to practice, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform, Deputy Dermot Ahern, is aware of the issue. He is in the process of consulting with the various interests on the best way to resolve this matter. Any necessary amendments will be tabled in this House under the aegis of the Minister and this issue is under consideration.

The second issue relates to that raised by Senator de Búrca and others and concerns the question of what was happening in the past, both with regard to the legal position and in practice. From a legal perspective, the issue raised about people being competent to hear court cases in the Gaeltacht did not arise because according to the law, everyone had passed this great examination that meant they were capable of conducting cases through Irish. In a fantastic world that appears to have been created, everyone had a marvellous competence to conduct their business in Irish because they had passed the examination. Consequently, anyone who was appointed to serve in a Gaeltacht area should have been able to conduct the business by virtue of having passed the examination.

As everyone is aware, however, this legal theory was far from the reality. The Government now is attempting to deal with the reality. The idea of having a basic terminology requirement as well as a higher level examination is highly realistic. I will provide two simple examples. Members should consider the case of a solicitor in practice whose normal business is conducted through English. That usually will be fine, as 99% or 100% of the solicitor’s clients deal with him or her through English and have no interest in having cases heard through Irish. Moreover, the solicitor does not feel competent to conduct cases through Irish. One day however, a document in Irish arrives into the solicitor’s e-mail, or however they receive information these days, with the words “Urghaire Chúirte” air. If one presumes the individual in question literally has no Irish, the urgency of the matter might not strike him or her immediately. Allowing that one had a basic knowledge of basic terminology, one would immediately realise this was an injunction and one normally must deal with injunctions fairly quickly. The terminology is a practical tool for people who are not practising in Irish but need to know at a glance, because the other side might send documents in Irish, whether a document is important or urgent and what should be done with it.

Obviously, were the document complicated and were one to recognise it as an injunction, one would quickly get someone who could deal with the issue and explain its contents to allow one to move on to the next stage. While it does not mean one is competent to deal with the entire issue, one would have enough Irish to know what is going on. Members accept this concept in these Houses, where they use words such as “Cathaoirleach”, “Ceann Comhairle” and so on. Everyone in Ireland understands this, although undoubtedly some visitors find proceedings to be something of a puzzle. In a bilingual State, it is good that people can issue such documents in both languages. However, it is important that people should avail of the opportunity to learn the basic terminology.

One of the purposes of the Bill was to get away from an examination that had no function. It was a compulsory examination that simply annoyed people and did not have a practical function in the world. To those who do not bother to attend this course, I hope they never get caught out by not understanding simple terms like “toghairm”, “urghaire” and a few other key words. Were they in a small practice without understanding what was happening, it could be very costly to them. On the other hand, I refer to a scenario that will happen quite frequently in Dublin, because many more people now use Irish on a daily basis. This is not simply a [734]Gaeltacht issue as the census proved that outside the educational system, more than 80,000 people choose to use Irish on a daily basis. Therefore, when involved in court proceedings, they will wish to have the cases heard in Irish, as is their legal and constitutional right.

At present, no list, register or other means exist to find out who, among those who passed this great examination that we know does not mean one can conduct business through Irish, really can do so. As soon as the new system has been put in place, those who have done the ardchúrsa will be on such a register. One will be able to contact any of them in the knowledge they have passed a real, genuine high-level test. While I do not like talking in commercial terms, this pertains to the market and the customers or clients will be able to read the list and find the people they want. Alternatively, a solicitor will be able to get a list of barristers and pick someone from it who is properly qualified do conduct the business in Irish.

Recently, in respect of an issue pertaining to a special area of conservation, my Department needed an ecologist to advise a farmer. There are registered lists of ecologists that are used, for example, by the National Parks and Wildlife Service. They have been recognised by the service as having the requisite qualifications and it is highly useful. One provides it to the farmer who picks one, two or three names and proceeds from there. In a similar way, for the first time ever, there will be a database of people who are competent to conduct business through Irish. Not only will people be available to so do, their identities will be known. This is absolutely vital.

While Connemara is the strongest and biggest Gaeltacht in the country, I can think of a number of solicitors who have extensive practices solely on the basis that they are fluent in the language. Many customers choose to go to them because of their competence and ability to conduct the business in court in Irish. They have created a market niche out of it. These are businesses and people are looking for work. If one has a competitive advantage in the market, one can exploit it quite legitimately. I foresee a development whereby many people will perceive that the ardchúrsa will provide them with a competitive advantage on the market because they will be in a market that others will be unable to access. Heretofore, there was no official recognition of that reality and therefore there was no great spreagadh ann for people to improve their Irish and to try to aspire to be what one might call the A-list.

It is vital that this test will be a real test of competency. While the test will be voluntary, it must be of an extremely high standard. The other point to be made is that many more people are pursuing law degrees and many more people are qualifying as barristers and solicitors than in the past. Another good thing is that many more people who are daily Irish speakers now are getting such qualifications. Therefore, I have no doubt about our ability to supply the market, given my personal knowledge of people who have qualified in law at all levels and in all branches of the law and who would be able to provide such services.

It must be recognised that the Irish language has a constitutional status and there is a legal obligation on the State to ensure that people can exercise their rights in respect of the Irish language. Moreover, further issues were raised in the Official Languages Act. The Act established that it was customer-based in that a person going to court had a right to do business in Irish and the court could in no way penalise him or her for making that choice nor could it impose any cost burden on the person choosing to do business in Irish. I believe that is only right if there are two official languages. It would be ridiculous if a person who chose to take a court case in the first official language of the State suffered a penalty for doing so. Equally, I do not believe a person who chooses to do so in English should suffer a penalty. It should be equal to all. The issue of language choice should be one for the customer, the defendant or the person before the court. It is a citizen’s choice issue. That is very important.

[735]The Bill is very significant. It brings a totally new and rational approach to the language in that it returns to the attempt made by the Official Languages Act to facilitate a citizen’s choice within reason. I have said previously with respect to the Official Languages Act, from which much of this Bill stems, that if such an Act had not been introduced, the Constitution makes the Irish language the first official language of the State, the national language, and the judgment given by one member of the Supreme Court was that a citizen is entitled to have every service and document through Irish. By my reckoning we now translate a percentage of documents into Irish. That is possible because the provision in the Constitution was used to delimit, by law, the right to documents and other services in Irish. That is specifically provided for in the Constitution but if it is not activated, it does not happen. For the first time ever, that provision was activated and severely limited people’s rights to services in Irish.

On the other hand, there is a basic level of documentation services, including court services, to which people are entitled. An attempt was made to ensure not only were these in place in name and as a right, but that they were in place in practice. A compromise or balance was involved. One was to delimit and to be practical, while the other was to establish that the limited service promised would exist in reality when people came looking for it. I see this Bill as complementing that philosophy. There is no point in saying a person can go to court and do business in Irish if, when the person goes there, he or she finds, like Mother Hubbard, that the cupboard is bare in terms of aturnaethe and abhcóidí to do the business.

There are two levels, the basic one of which is that a person can send a document to another person in Irish. I would hope that most solicitors and barristers would avail of the opportunity to have the basic terminology so that they can defend their clients’ rights when they get the documentation in Irish. The second level, which I believe will be addressed by the Bill, is that there will be a list of competent solicitors and barristers who have passed the árd léibhéal, a real test which will qualify them to process cases in Irish. That will exist for any citizen in this country who chooses, by citizen’s right, to do his or her business in the courts through Irish. I have no doubt this will create a market of its own. Once the provisions are in place, people will know this and will be encouraged therefore to do their business through the Irish language if they are of a mind to do so. They will know it is possible and feasible to access the personnel.

Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghlacadh leis na Seanadóirí. Sílim go raibh díospóireacht an-mhaith againn inniu. Is Bille tábhachtach é seo. Athraíonn sé cur chuige an Stáit. Tá pointí ardaithe ag na heagraíochtaí Gaeilge. Go deimhin féin, labhair mé leis an tAire, an Teachta Ó Luineacháin, lá amháin nuair a bhí sé mar Aire Dlí agus Cirt, Comhionannais agus Athchóirithe Dlí. Phléamar an cheist seo le hionadaithe ó Chonradh na Gaeilge. Sílim go bhfuil an Bille seo i bhfad níos feiliúnaí do shochaí na 21ú aoise ná mar a bhí an sean-réim.

I gcás coimhlinte dlí idirtheangach i dtaobh na Bunreachta de, tá an tosaíocht ag an nGaeilge. Tá buntáiste mór ag daoine a bhfuil tuiscint scríofa, ar a laghad, acu ar chéard a chiallaíonn an leagan Ghaeilge. Mar a scríobhadh i leabhar an-mhaith mar gheall ar aistriú an Bhunreacht, tá difríochtaí beaga idir an leagan Gaeilge agus an leagan Béarla den Bhunreacht. Is deas an rud é bheith in ann breathnú ar an leagan Gaeilge, é a thuiscint agus an comparáid a dhéanamh leis an leagan Béarla. Is dhá theangacha difriúla iad. Tuigtear dom go bhfuil sé mar an gcéanna san Eoraip. Tá na leaganacha Gaeilge údarásach anois, ó thugadh stádas mar theanga oifigiúil oibre don Ghaeilge san Eoraip. De réir mar a thuigim é, déantar comparáid go minic san Eoraip idir na leaganacha sna teangacha éagsúla. Beidh deis ag abhcóidí agus aturnaetha a bhfuil eolas acu ar an nGaeilge breathnú ar an leagan Gaeilge, comparáid a dhéanamh idir é sin agus aon leagan in aon teanga eile agus argóintí a bhunú ar sin. Mar sin, beidh éileamh ar dhaoine le mion-eolas ar an dteanga. Creidim nach mbeidh lá ar bith díomhaoin acu siúd a dhéanfaidh an t-ard-chúrsa, má tá maith ar bith leo. Beidh éileamh ag daoine ar an tseirbhís seo, ó tharla go mbeidh cinnteacht ann ó thaobh chaighdeáin de.

[736]Question put and agreed to.

An Cathaoirleach: Information on Pat Moylan  Zoom on Pat Moylan  When is it proposed to take Committee Stage?

Senator Denis O’Donovan: Information on Dennis O'Donovan  Zoom on Dennis O'Donovan  Next Tuesday.

Committee Stage ordered for Tuesday, 20 May 2008.

Sitting suspended at 4.30 p.m. and resumed at 5 p.m.


Last Updated: 06/09/2010 22:47:49 First Page Previous Page Page of 10 Next Page Last Page