The status of the Irish language is set out in the Irish Constitution.
Article 8 of the Constitution states:
- The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.
- The English language is recognised as a second official language.
- Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.
The basic principles regarding language rights are set out in the Constitution.
The Constitution permits the public to conduct its business – and every part of its business – with the state solely through Irish. As a result of this constitutional right, public bodies have a duty to comply with this right.
In practice, however, it often happened that no effective provision was made to provide services in Irish as well as providing services in English.
Furthermore, people who wished to conduct their business in Irish with the state often felt that they had no option except to set aside their constitutional rights and their choice of language and resort to using the second official language in order to conduct their business properly.
Until the Official Languages Act came into effect, people had no choice except to resort to the courts in order to obtain their constitutional language rights.
As a result of these cases, various courts have considered the status of the Irish language under the Constitution over a number of years. Further information on specific cases can be downloaded here.