About the Act
Irish used to be a compulsory requirement for employment in the public sector until this system came to an end in 1974. The government of the day decided that Irish and English would be put on an equal footing in the entrance examinations for the civil service i.e. that candidates would be able to use Irish or English, or both languages, in competitions and that recognition would be given to candidates who were competent in both languages.
In the years following that arrangement, the ability of the civil service to provide an effective service for those wishing to conduct their business through Irish decreased.
Towards the end of the 1970s, the Irish language movement, particularly Conradh na Gaeilge, began a campaign for a Language Rights Bill or a Language Act and the debate on the issue continued for more than twenty years.
In 1993 the government published guidelines prepared by Bord na Gaeilge (the state body for the Irish language) on the services through Irish which were to be provided by the public service. These guidelines had no statutory basis nor was there any effective monitoring system to ensure that they would be implemented. As a result, very few state bodies operated in accordance with those guidelines.
In 2002 the government published the first draft of a bill aimed at providing more services of a higher quality through Irish in the public sector. The bill was debated and various amendments were made to it until it was passed unanimously by both the Dáil and the Seanad in summer 2003.
On 14 July 2003, the President signed the Official Languages Act 2003 into law and the provisions of the Act were gradually brought into force over a three-year period. This was the first time the provision of services in general through Irish by the state system was placed on a statutory footing.
The aim of the Official Languages Act 2003 is to increase and improve in an organised manner over a period of time the quantity and quality of services provided for the public through Irish by public bodies. The legislation intends to create a space for the language in public affairs in Ireland.
The Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga was established under the Official Languages Act as an independent statutory office operating as an ombudsman's service and as a compliance agency.