One sometimes wonders if parochial politicians realize how narrow they appear when they express close-minded views, or if it’s actually their goal to put forth that perception in the first place.
Henry Reilly, a councillor representing the Mourne area in County Down on a local council in Northern Ireland, recently wrote a letter to a local publication complaining that area workers employed by the same council were being queried about their Irish language skills.
“Workers are being asked if they have an Irish language qualification, how competent they are in Irish, if they would be willing to deal with enquiries from the public in Irish and if they would be willing to take a course in Irish. Staff are even asked if they would like to take such a course during working hours!” Reilly wrote to the News Letter.
Reilly added that council staff members who had contacted him expressed concern that their lack of knowledge of Irish or interest in learning Irish could harm their promotion prospects.
“It is clear to me that the implication of the audit is that having Irish will be a distinct advantage when working for the council,” he added. “This is wrong and discriminatory against the Protestant community.”
So here we have a government entity which, as part of its responsibility to serve its citizenry, seeks to assess the Irish-speaking capabilities of its employees. Understanding that not all employees may be able to speak Irish, it asks if they would be interested in taking a course in the language during working hours.
The council is willing to pay to enable employees to learn another language, to help them better serve the populace. But an elected official finds fault with that. Not because of the potential cost, or because it would potentially leave the council staff shorthanded during working hours, but because it somehow discriminates against the Protestant community.
As I noted when I first learned of this on the blog An Sionnach Fionn, I wish someone would pay me to learn a second language.
The only thing that’s seems unfair is that the people of Mourne find themselves represented by an ignorant ass who is either kowtowing to a handful of bigots who don’t want to learn Irish because they see it as the language of Catholics, or is grandstanding in a bid to lock up votes for the next election.
I don’t know what the threshold should be for having civil staff learn different languages to serve a polyglot population, but clearly there are many regions that would benefit from having some understanding of the language(s) of those they serve, whether it’s Irish in Northern Ireland, Spanish in parts of the United States, French in parts of Canada, etc., etc.
Public service isn’t about bending the job to the employee’s whims, but adapting to what the populace needs, when possible.
If Reilly has his way, services that could be better provided by a staff at least somewhat conversant in Irish would either go undelivered, or be delivered in a decidedly less efficient manner. Either way, some of Reilly’s constitutents would lose – but he’d rather pander than serve all of the public.
(Top: Henry Reilly, councillor on the Newry, Mourne and Down District Council representing the Mourne area.)