Official Languages Act 2003
The Official Languages Act 2003 (OLA; Irish: Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2003) is an Act of the Oireachtas of Ireland. The Official Languages Act sets out rules regarding use of the Irish language by public bodies, establishes the office of An Coimisinéir Teanga to monitor and enforce compliance by public bodies with the provisions of the Official Languages Act and makes provision for the designation of official Irish language versions of placenames and the removal of the official status of English placenames in the Gaeltacht.
Placenames under the Official Languages Act
On 30 October 2003, Part 5 of the Official Languages Act came into effect. Under Part 5, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs, having received and considered advice from An Coimisiún Logainmneacha, may by Ministerial Order (a "Placenames Order") declare the Irish language version of a placename specified in a Placenames Order. The principal legal effects of a Placename Order are one or other of the following:
- in respect of any placename outside the Gaeltacht, the Irish and the English versions of the placename have the same status and the same legal force and effect; and
- in respect of a placename in the Gaeltacht, the Irish version of the placename has legal force and effect while the English version of the placename has none.
Any Placenames Order is without prejudice to private use of the Irish or English-language versions of a placename. In many cases, it is also without prejudice to public use of a placename. However, where a Placenames Order is made in respect of placenames in the Gaeltacht, the English version of such placenames cannot be used in three instances: in future Acts of the Oireachtas; in road or street signs erected by or on behalf of a local authority; and in Statutory Instruments. Under Irish law, a "Statutory Instrument" includes "an order, regulation, rule, bye-law, warrant, licence, certificate, direction, notice, guideline or other like document made, issued, granted or otherwise created by or under an Act [of the Oireachtas and certain pre-Irish constitution Acts]".
The Minister has now made several Placename Orders. Notably, on 28 March 2005, the Minister made the Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004. This Placenames Order was in respect of placenames in the Gaeltacht and, therefore, one of its effects was to remove all legal force and effect from the English-language version of hundreds of placenames. As a result, today towns such as those formerly officially known as Belmullet, Dingle, and Spiddal are now, in law, known only as Béal an Mhuirthead, An Daingean and An Spidéal.
The Act is an important part of a plan to have at least 250,000 daily speakers of Irish by 2030.
- Section 33, Official Languages Act 2003, No. 32 of 2003
- Section 2, Interpretation Act 2005, No. 23 of 2005
- Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004. All of the Placename Orders made by the Minister may be obtained at An Coimisinéir Teanga's website
- Gaelport commentary 2010: downloaded April 2010