Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (114)

Breeda Moynihan-Cronin

Ceist:

197 Ms B. Moynihan-Cronin asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the progress made to date in regard to the implementation of the Official Languages Act 2003; the role his Department will play in regard to monitoring the implementation of the provisions; if an assessment has been undertaken of the staffing implications for the public service generally of the provisions of the Act; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3092/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs)

As the Deputy is aware, the Official Languages Act 2003 was signed into law in July 2003. The primary objective of the Act is to ensure better availability and a higher standard of public services through Irish. As Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, I have a general responsibility to ensure such services are made available.

My Department has carried out, or is currently engaged in, the necessary preparatory work to implement the Act. It has written to the approximately 650 public bodies concerned to provide them with a copy of the Act and a summary of its main provisions. A process is under way whereby officers of my Department are providing briefing sessions for public bodies on the implications of the Act. The process affords opportunities to make information available and discuss the Act's specific import for different people. Part 5 of the Act, which deals with place names was commenced on 30 October 2003 and I have made seven orders under that part to date.

A bilingual booklet, Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003: Osradharc/Official Languages Act 2003: Overview, has been published. It gives an insight into the main provisions of the Act and answers frequently asked questions. A sum of €500,000 has been provided in the Estimates of my Department for 2004 for the establishment of the Oifig Choimisinéir na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. An action plan on the phased implementation of the provisions of the Act has been approved by the Government and announced.

Mr. Seán Ó Cuirreáin has been nominated by the Government for appointment by the President as An Coimisinéir Teanga, subject to the relevant resolutions being accepted and passed by the Dáil and the Seanad. These resolutions will be ready to be placed before the Houses of the Oireachtas very soon and I hope they will be approved. On 19 January 2004, I signed a commencement order to give effect to most of the provisions of the Act from that date and to section 10 from May 2004.

Recently, two working groups were established. One is responsible for preparing a draft scheme for my Department under section 11 of the Act and a notice in relation to this will be published in the national press soon. The other is an interdepartmental group whose function is to advise my Department in relation to the drawing up of guidelines under section 12 of the Act to assist public bodies in preparing draft schemes. Preparatory work is ongoing to make regulations under section 9(1) to deal with the use of Irish only, or of both Irish and English, in oral announcements, on stationery, on signage and on advertisements. It is intended that the list of public bodies to which the Act applies will be kept under review and that I will regularly exercise my powers, as Minister, under paragraph 3 of the First Schedule to bring additional bodies within the ambit of the Act.

I am fully satisfied that the moneys available in the Department's Vote for this year will be sufficient to meet the requirements of my Department to implement and operate the provisions of the Act in 2004. I am taking into account the fact that not all of provisions of the Act will be given full effect in the current year. It must be understood that the number of draft schemes to be agreed under section 11 will be limited since the statutory guidelines must be prepared in the first instance and public bodies will then have a period of up to six months to prepare a draft scheme based on these guidelines. As stated previously, a sum of €500,000 has been provided in the 2004 Estimates for the establishment of Oifig Choimisinéir na dTeangacha Oifigiúla.

With regard to the number of new posts created since the enactment of the OfficialLanguages Act, I direct the Deputy's attention to my response to Question No. 334 of 1 October 2003.

Question No. 198 answered with QuestionNo. 150