Wednesday, 4 February 2004

Ceisteanna (62, 63)

John Deasy

Ceist:

143 Mr. Deasy asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs the work that has been carried out by his Department to improve the status for the Irish language within the EU, as set out in his Department's Statement of Strategy for 2003-2005; and the future initiatives planned by his Department to achieve this aim. [3242/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Bernard J. Durkan

Ceist:

328 Mr. Durkan asked the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs if he will support the case of the Irish language to be included as a working language in the European Community; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [3410/04]

Amharc ar fhreagra

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

I propose to take Questions Nos. 143 and 328 together.

My Department has identified the question of enhancing the status of the Irish language in the EU as an issue in its statement of strategy for the period 2003-05.

The Deputy will appreciate the need to distinguish between official status, in the constitutional sense, and status as a working language for the purposes of the European institutions. There is a list of languages in only one place in the draft European constitution and the Irish language is mentioned on an equal footing with the other national languages of the existing and new member states in that context. By virtue of that reference, which is a reflection of the position in the current treaties, Irish will continue to have constitutional status within the EU. As a resultof this status, a citizen has, for example, the right to write to any of the European institutions in Irish and to receive a reply in the samelanguage.

No language is mentioned as a working language in the new draft constitutional treaty. This is not an issue therefore to be addressed in the new constitution itself, but would be an issue to be addressed by legislation — in effect, Council Regulation 1/1958 would have to be amended unanimously in the Council of Ministers.

As announced recently by the Taoiseach, the Government is establishing a working group to analyse what can be achieved on this issue and the possibilities that exist to make progress. A meeting on the matter of high-level officials has been arranged for tomorrow. I hope that the process will be completed quickly and that it will be possible to go back to Government with considered recommendations soon. At this point, I cannot say that I am certain that the issue is as simple as has sometimes been portrayed and it is too soon still to say what the outcome of these discussions might be.