Official Languages Act 2003

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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[edit]

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 (The Placenames Commission), 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.[1]

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.[1] 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]".[2]

The Minister has now made several Placename Orders. Notably, on 28 March 2005, the Minister made the Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004.[3] 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.[1] As a result, today towns such as those formerly officially known as Belmullet and Spiddal are now, in law, known only as Béal an Mhuirthead and An Spidéal. In Dingle, County Kerry, a plebiscite organised by Kerry County Council voted to restore the official status of the English name and to revert the official Irish name from "An Daingean" to "Daingean Uí Chúis". The council action was ultra vires, so in 2011 the Local Government Act 2001 was amended to make the name changes in relation to Dingle and to allow similar plebiscites elsewhere.[4][5]

Official translations[edit]

Section 7 of the 2003 act requires that an official Irish translation of each act of the Oireachtas must be published simultaneously with the publication of its English version. However, several complex acts have sections making themselves exempt from this provision.[6] A 2011 amendment exempts electronic publishing of acts from the provision.[7]

20-year target[edit]

The Act is an important part of a plan to have at least 250,000 daily speakers of Irish by 2030.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Section 33, Official Languages Act 2003, No. 32 of 2003
  2. ^ Section 2, Interpretation Act 2005, No. 23 of 2005
  3. ^ Placenames (Ceantair Ghaeltachta) Order 2004. All of the Placename Orders made by the Minister may be obtained at An Coimisinéir Teanga's website
  4. ^ "Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill 2011: Instruction to Committee". Dáil Éireann debates. Oireachtas. 21 July 2011. Vol. 739 No. 4 p.22. Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  5. ^ "Environment (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, Section 48". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 28 November 2016. 
  6. ^ "Official Languages Act 2003: Amendments, Commencement, SIs made under the Act". Irish Statute Book. Effects; "S. 7 application restricted" and "S. 7 non–application of". Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  7. ^ "Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011, Section 62". Irish Statute Book. Retrieved 24 November 2016. 
  8. ^ Gaelport commentary 2010: downloaded April 2010

External links[edit]