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Social Democrats’ College & University Branches, Labour Youth, Ógra Shinn Féin, Young Fine Gael, and Young Greens/Óige Ghlas, along with Conradh na Gaeilge, are calling on the Minister for the Gaeltacht, Catherine Martin, and Minister of State for the Gaeltacht, Jack Chambers, to put in place a bilingual packaging policy by the end of 2024.

This policy would ensure that throughout the State, all text on a product, its container or wrapping, or on a document or object supplied with it, including the directions for use and the warranty certificates, will be drafted in Irish. The Irish inscription may be accompanied with a translation or translations, but no inscription in another language may be given greater prominence than that in Irish.

By setting Irish as the default language with an option for a translation to accompany, this allows for monolingual packaging within the Gaeltacht areas and bilingual packaging nationwide.

We regard this proposal as a pragmatic way to increase literacy rates and speaking opportunities for the Irish language without any increase in spending by the state. This policy, if adopted by the State, would give greater visibility and accessibility to the Irish language for learners and native speakers and allow citizens greater flexibility to go about their lives in either Irish or English.

We contend this policy to be in large part one of public education which will see gains for (but not limited to) teachers, students, those required to have knowledge of Irish for their employment, such as in the civil service, and the one million-plus people actively learning Irish on Duolingo, a language learning app, every week.

It will also provide new opportunities of employment for Irish speakers in translation and marketing. We contend this policy would incur no new costs to the average business that they wouldn’t already incur over a short-run period, i.e. in packaging, printing, and marketing costs. In the event of marginal costs, the Business Support Scheme 2021 grant is available, through Foras na Gaeilge, to small and medium-sized commercial enterprises to promote Irish in their businesses through signage, packaging, websites, and printed marketing material.

In the medium and long run, this policy will serve businesses interests by creating bilingual workers that are going to be flexible in the ways demanded by the 21st century. International enterprises must already translate their products when selling to other nations, and it would be in line with EU norms that we adopt this pre-requisite for trade here. To further reduce the impact on business, it is intended that this would initially apply to new products being brought to market and phased in organically for existing products as companies redesign their packaging or branding in line with their own business needs.

Canada provides a successful workable model of bilingual commerce which we seek to emulate. Finland, a similar sized EU country to ours, also requires that all sales and marketing material is in both official languages, Finnish and Swedish.

Bilingualism is proven to be a major asset to a child’s intellectual development and provides the skills necessary to pick up a third or fourth language. Bilingualism improves metacognition, making your brain healthier, better at problem solving, switching between tasks, focusing and can even delay the onset of diseases like Alzheimer’s and dementia by as much as five years.

March 29, 2021

1 TED-Ed – The Benefits of a Bilingual Brain, 2015

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