In Issue 1/2024


The Republic of Ireland has two official languages.  Article 8.2 of Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Irish Constitution, describes Irish as “the national language” and the “first official language”.  Article 8.2 says: “The English language is recognised as a second official language”.

The constitutional position of both languages is reinforced in the political arena through Part 2 of the Official Languages Act 2003:

Use of official languages in Houses of Oireachtas.

6. – (1) A member of either House of the Oireachtas has the right to use either of the official languages in any debates or other proceedings in that House or of a committee of either House, a joint committee of both Houses or sub-committee of such a committee or joint committee.

(2) A person appearing before either House of the Oireachtas or before such a committee, joint committee or sub-committee as aforesaid has the right to use either of the official languages.

(3) Every official report of the debates and other proceedings of the Houses of the Oireachtas shall be published in each of the official languages, except that contributions (whether oral or in writing) in either of the official languages by persons may be published therein solely in that language.

Status and Competence in Irish

In recent decades, competency in Irish among the general population has been increasing.  The Census of 2022 showed that 40% of the population aged three and over who completed the question on the Irish language could speak Irish.  This was almost 113,000 more people than in the previous census of 2016, or an increase of 6% in the number of Irish speakers. In turn, the 2016 figure was an increase on the Census 2011 figure.

This increasing usage and competence in Irish among the population has been reflected in the Houses of the Oireachtas, the Irish Parliament, over the past decade, with Members speaking Irish more often in debates and a new emphasis on a bilingual environment in parliament, such as in signage, Irish language events and the development of a language pin for staff indicating a competence in Irish.

Irish in Parliament

One of the five goals of the Houses of the Oireachtas Strategic Plan 2022-2024 is to “facilitate a progressive increase in the amount of Irish spoken in both Houses” and to “progressively increase the cohort of bilingual staff in the Service”.

While English remains the dominant language of debate in both Houses of Parliament, the use of Irish as a floor language by Members is increasing across all parties and all debate topics, and all party leaders speak and use Irish.  This is a significant change from an era when Irish was most likely to occur as a standard sentence in the opening and closing of Members’ speeches, during formal and ceremonial occasions and in debates focusing on the Irish language itself.

Irish in the Official Report

The increased use of Irish, and the increased emphasis on a bilingual parliament, has been reflected in the Official Report of the Houses of the Oireachtas.  It has challenged the Debates Office, which is responsible for producing the Official Report of the Dáil, Seanad and parliamentary committees, to ensure a competence in Irish and English among staff.  The goal of the Debates Office is to produce the Irish and English elements of the Official Report to the same deadlines and to the same high standard.

The Official Report reflects the floor language as spoken, without translation.  This has always been the practice, and aligns with the provisions of the Official Languages Act 2003 (see above).

In addition to the debate, standard procedural lines and debate headings in the Official Report are increasingly bilingual, a significant contribution to the bilingual environment of the Houses of Parliament.  Using bilingual headings and procedural lines has linguistic and technical challenges in an environment where technologies in particular were traditionally built on a monolingual platform.  However, with the advent of the Digital Transformation project in parliament, which is continuing, there is an acceptance that parliament and material it publishes must be bilingual and that technology and technological developments must support both languages seamlessly, rather than having Irish as an add-on afterwards.  Therefore, while legacy technologies can be challenging, the Digital Transformation process is being built on a bilingual approach.

Recruiting Bilingual Staff and Staff Training

A challenge for the Debates Office is the recruitment of staff proficient in Irish.  Where in the past, when less Irish was spoken, the Debates Office depended in an ad hoc way on some staff having competence in Irish, it now focuses on recruiting staff with skills in both Irish and English.

The past number of recruitment campaigns at parliamentary reporter level, the entry level for reporting and editing, have had two streams: an English stream and a bilingual stream.  The result has been the recruitment of a cohort of staff at parliamentary reporter level who are fully competent to report in Irish and English.  It means that all parliamentary reporters report debates in English, and bilingual reporters also report debates in Irish.  When use of the Irish language in debates is predictable in advance, such as during parliamentary questions to the Minister with responsibility for Irish and Irish speaking areas, bilingual reporters are rostered.  Irish arising outside that is reported by our bilingual reporters, who may be diverted from other tasks depending on the amount of Irish to be reported.  The objective is to have the Irish elements of debate reported to the same deadlines as the English debate.  This involves dynamic rostering of staff.

The cohort of prospective applicants with competence in professional written Irish is relatively small, and demand is constantly increasing in the public and private sectors in Ireland and within the EU institutions.  However, so far the bilingual entry examinations have been successful in recruiting bilingual staff to the Debates Office.  In terms of the linguistic requirements of the Debates Office, a qualification in translation or interpretation is not required.  The competence sought in Irish is the same as that in English, namely the ability to render the spoken word in written form, and the entrance examination in the Irish language mirrors that of the English language examination.

To assist all staff to become familiar with commonly occurring phrases in Irish, be it procedural lines, debate headings or spoken courtesies in Irish (eg, “I thank the Chair”), the Debates Office has a dynamic list of phrases, headings and procedural lines, which allows all reporters to complete these pieces without relying on the bilingual reporters.

The Debates Office also facilitates opportunities for existing staff to develop their Irish language competence.  This author reported in Irish as a parliamentary reporter and subsequently completed a part-time master’s degree in applied written Irish, augmenting expertise at editor level within the Debates Office.

Future Challenges and Opportunities

A further change will come with the implementation of a Government commitment, under the Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021, to have 20% of staff across the civil service competent in Irish by 2030.  In the past 10 years the Debates Office has been proactive in ensuring competence in Irish among staff, and while the 2030 commitment may affect recruitment of bilingual staff as competition for their skills increases, it is both a challenge and an opportunity.  The Debates Office must continue to be a desirable place in which to work and a positive environment for staff while also ensuring the Irish and English elements of the Official Report are produced to the same deadline and to the same high standard.

Dr. Adrian M. Kelly is Deputy Editor of the Official Report in the Irish Parliament.


Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla. Official Languages Act. Government of Ireland, 2003.

Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla (Leasú), 2021. Official Languages (Amendment) Act 2021. Government of Ireland, 2021.

Bunreacht na hÉireann, Constitution of Ireland.

Census of Population 2022. An Phríomh-Oifig Staidrimh. Central Statistics Office, 2023.

Houses of the Oireachtas Service, Strategic Plan 2022-2024: A Parliament Working Effectively for the People. Houses of the Oireachtas Commission, 2022.

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