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News / April 10, 2008

HSE apologises for English dental service in Gaeltacht school

by Guy Hiscott

The Tuarascáil Bhliantúil Annual Report 2007, launched on 8 April, has revealed the Health Service Executive, as a result of an investigation, apologised for providing public health dental services in English only for a Gaeltacht school, in breach of an agreed statutory obligation.

A parent of a child attending a national school in the Gaeltacht complained to the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs at the end of April 2007 that a Health Service Executive dentist working in the school on 24 April dealt with her child through English.

The parent considered that a Health Service Executive provision such as the school dental service should be in Irish for children raised with Irish in the Gaeltacht.

At the outset the office endeavoured to deal with the complaint on an informal basis with the Health Service Executive (Western Region) but that attempt did not succeed. Finally a statutory investigation was instigated in accordance with the provisions in the Official Languages Act 2003 in relation to the allegation in the complaint.

Following the investigation the Health Service Executive admitted that it had contravened its statutory obligations under the language scheme and the Official Languages Act 2003.

Further, the Executive affirmed that steps had been taken to ensure that the language scheme would not be contravened again regarding the recruitment of staff in the Gaeltacht areas concerned.
The Executive also confirmed that the health provisions involved in its dental services are now being offered in Irish as a first choice to the community in the Gaeltacht.

Speaking at the launch of the report, An Coimisinéir Teanga, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, said that the current recruitment and training regime in the state sector appeared to be insufficient to ensure that an adequate number of staff were competent in the Irish language so as to be able to provide services through Irish as well as English. He suggested that a ‘rebalancing’ action may be required to ensure an adequacy of staff with competence in Irish in the civil and public service.

‘A system to help achieve cross-community rebalancing through positive discrimination was found for the Police Service of Northern Ireland as a result of the Patten report. A similar effort would be required here, even temporarily, to have a positive effect in rebalancing staffing levels in the state sector of those with competence in Irish and in English.

‘Such a move should have no additional cost implications; in fact, it would be more economical for the state sector to employ people with competence in both Irish and English than the current system, which in many state organisations requires resorting to external commercial translation agencies to deal with the simplest of letters in Irish,’ he said.