Yesterday, I had the chance to visit the beautiful County Galway in the West Region of Ireland to meet with our fellow counterparts at the Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga [Office of the Language Commissioner] of Ireland. Their offices are beautiful and, not to mention, have a breathtaking view of the sea. No wonder most of the desks have their back facing the windows; one can’t help but daydream all day in such a setting!
That said, there are many similarities between Ireland and Ontario’s Francophone population. In terms of figures, there are approximately 700 000 citizens who consider Irish as their maternal language. Ontario consists of over 600 000 French speakers. The only exception is proportion, since the total population of Ireland is around four million people, which means roughly 18% of the population considers Irish to be their maternal language.
Their offices and budgets are essentially the same as ours. They have six employees working alongside the Commissioner; we have six people on our team altogether. Their budget is lower, but in Euros, it’s just about equivalent.
But the similarities end there. The Irish Language Commissioner was appointed directly by the President and reports to two chambers. In my case, as you know, I report solely to the Minister Responsible for Francophone Affairs. In Ireland, they have a law for official languages, as is the case in Canada, but they don’t have laws at the provincial level.
Indeed, Ireland is divided into counties and provinces. However, it is the counties which serve the local administration. Some big cities reserve the same amount of autonomy for decision-making as the counties, and they rely on their city councils.
Another similarity is that their office was established in 2004 notably with the help of the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages of Canada! Here in Ontario, on the other hand, our office was established in 2007. Seán Ó Cuirreáin is the first and the current Language Commissioner in Ireland, as he has always assumed the role. It is actually due to his invitation that we are here. I am very pleased to have met him. He told me that he also leant a big hand in the development and implementation of a similar office in Kosovo, whose representatives are also going to be present at the conference.
This means that governments are increasingly becoming aware that it is worthwhile to develop offices like ours in order to assist the population in preserving the minority language(s), helping to promote it, and most importantly, keeping it in the interest of the government to implement laws accordingly. In Ireland, they have received over 750 complaints in the past year alone!