ULG's Language Services Blog

The EU and the Need for Irish Translation


Recently, the European Union’s (EU) need for Irish interpreters has been thrown into the spotlight, as they struggle to find qualified candidates to fill those job vacancies. Although only spoken by a small population, the cultural significance of Gaeilge (pronounced Gwayl'guh) is immense, and it is also one of the official languages of Ireland.

For years now, the EU has consistently been unsuccessful in finding a sufficient number of interpreters for the language. With the importance of filling these roles rising in the wake of Brexit, what does the future hold for the EU and Gaeilge?

Gaeilge as an Official EU Language

Gaeilge was added as the EU’s 23rd official language in 2007. The induction came with an additional €3.5 million budget for new translator and interpreter positions.

The EU has always been a proponent of language diversity within the union, with millions of euros spent every year to ensure quality translation and interpretation from certified professionals.

With language quality being a key focus in the EU, the failure to find enough qualified Gaeilge interpreters remains a sticking point. 23 vacancies remain unfilled, and a 2020 deadline has been put in place to extensively expand the number of positions that need to be filled.

But why are those vacancies so hard to fill? There are several factors that contribute to this problem, one being that only 100,000 speak Gaeilge on a daily basis, with even fewer using it as their primary language, so the pool for finding proficient translators is much smaller in comparison to some of the other official languages in the EU.

Another issue comes from the EU’s difficult “Concours” tests, which NUI Galway, the leading university for Irish translation and interpretation studies, has cited as being unfamiliar for Irish applicants, heightening the frustration of applying for the Irish translation jobs.

Ramifications of Brexit

Ireland ranks as one of the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of overall GDP, but that status may be in peril after Brexit. The Irish economy is so intrinsically tied to the UK through the EU in terms of both exports and imports, and by leaving the EU, the UK could set up Ireland for problems. Depending on how soft or hard the separation of the UK from the EU is, the economy of Ireland could suffer drastically in the future.

Now it is even more important for the EU to successfully incorporate the Irish language into its operations, as the Gaeilge-speaking community in Ireland might come under threat of being marginalized in the EU’s trade agreements without proper language representation.

Moving Forward On Irish Translation

The priority to fill all positions will become paramount in the coming years. Gaeilge currently is under a derogation category within the EU, meaning that it’s not a requirement for all EU documents to be translated into Gaeilge. However, that derogation is set to end in 2022, putting even greater pressure on the EU to find a substantial number of expertly trained translators and interpreters.

Moving forward, the incentivization and salary of Gaeilge translation positions might have to be raised to attract potential candidates. While this will raise the annual cost for the EU’s translation budget, it will also be well worth it to compensate the few who are capable of providing Irish translation.

Another priority relates to universities that teach Gaeilge translation studies. Given NUI Galway’s claim that applicants for EU translator positions are confused and unfamiliar with the “Contours” tests, it’s critical that the EU works with universities to help them understand and familiarize themselves with the tests’ procedures and concepts.

While these measures might be expensive and time-consuming in the short-term, the importance of Gaeilge to Ireland means that the EU must take action on this matter soon.