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Irish language has been treated disgracefully during pandemic, TD claims

Fianna Fail’s Eamon O Cuiv said sending out separate information leaflets – one in English and one in Irish – had cost a huge amount of money.

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The treatment of the Irish langiage during the pandemic has been criticised (Damien Eagers/PA)

The treatment of the Irish langiage during the pandemic has been criticised (Damien Eagers/PA)

The treatment of the Irish langiage during the pandemic has been criticised (Damien Eagers/PA)

The State’s handling of the distribution of Covid-19 information has made a “joke” of the Irish language, an Oireachtas committee has heard.

Fianna Fail TD Eamon O Cuiv said how the language has been treated during the pandemic has been an “utter disgrace”.

The Government’s official information booklet on coronavirus was not printed in English and Irish as standard.

It was an utter disgrace, nothing more, nothing less the way the language was treatedEamon O Cuiv

Two separate leaflets, one in English and one in Irish, were instead sent to every household.

Official Government information leaflets are typically printed bilingually.

Mr O Cuiv told the Social Protection Committee on Wednesday that sending two booklets had been at a huge cost to the Exchequer.

“It was an utter disgrace, nothing more, nothing less the way the language was treated,” Mr O Cuiv said.

“It cost a huge amount of money to send a second leaflet around when the law says quite clearly that all that should be done bilingually.”

He also said bilingual signage should be put up across the country.

“We’ve kids going to gaelscoileanna all around the country. We’re spending a lot of money on the Irish language on the one hand and we’re making a joke of it on the other,” he said.

“How can you tell a kid that it’s a real language when all they do is see it at school.”

Green Party TD Marc O’Cathasaigh said the State needs “to get better at” providing information in Irish and English at the same time.

“It should be done as a matter of course that any state material that’s published in English should also be simultaneously published in Irish,” he said.

The Social Protection Committee was meeting to consider the findings of the Special Committee on Covid-19 response, which published its final report last month calling for new measures to protect older people, people in nursing homes, people in direct provision and low-paid workers.

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TDs and senators at the Social Protection Committee also discussed changes to the Pandemic Unemployment Payment.

The changes mean self-employed people including those who work in the arts and entertainment industry, taxi drivers and others can earn up to 480 euros per month while retaining their full PUP entitlement.

Sinn Fein’s spokeswoman for social protection Claire Kerrane said there have been major difficulties for the self-employed with the PUP.

The Roscommon-Galway TD told the committee that last week alone, 4,000 applications of PUP had been refused because the Department of Social Protection did not have the PRSI record for the applicant.

She claimed she had been “inundated” with representations from people who had found themselves in that situation.

“I know 4,000 people were affected last week,” she said. “Whether it’s a breakdown of communication between the Department and Revenue I don’t know. It’s been a very messy situation.”

Ms Kerrane welcomed the earnings disregard but she said it would still cause difficulties for those in the performing arts and taxi drivers.

“120 euros a week is not really a lot,” she said.

Mr O Cuiv said it is disappointing that many people working in tourist towns are not able to access the PUP because of the way the payment is set up.

He said a lot of the rural coastal economies only operate between March and October and therefore workers were not working last January, February and March – the months the payment is based on.

The committee also heard concerns over the Government’s decision to change social welfare payments to fortnightly rather than weekly since the onset of the pandemic.

Mr O’Cathasaigh said fortnightly payments have had a “big impact on post offices” and have also impacted those dependent on social welfare, with people finding it difficult to budget as a result.

Weekly social welfare payments were changed to biweekly in March in a bid to better manage the footfall in post offices and banks and to promote social distancing during the pandemic.

Some payments reverted back to weekly in August and the remainder are due to return to weekly from this week.

Mr O Cuiv said it was a “mistake” not to make the biweekly payment optional, adding he does not believe it was necessary to change when the payments are made because more and more people are opting for direct payments to their bank accounts anyway.

He warned such a change needs to be “thought out carefully” before it is used again.

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