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Sunday, July 06, 2008

The cost of using Welsh

I am a bit confused about newspaper reports on 4 June that the cost of establishing Welsh as an official EU language will be over £500,000 and that the Assembly Government will be picking up the tab for that.

This matter has recently been the subject of a spat between Plaid and Labour MEPs but it seems that the truth is a bit more prosaic as is made clear from this exchange at the Communities and Culture Committee on 26 June 2008:

Peter Black: I wish to go back briefly to the issue of the use of Welsh in the European Union. I have read reports that there is a fairly substantial cost involved in that, and that the Welsh Assembly Government will be meeting that cost. Could you put on the record what the position is?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:
I am not aware of a substantial cost to the Assembly from this

Peter Black:
What is the cost to the Assembly then?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:
There will be a cost to the Assembly if those services are used, because we will have to ensure that translation is available. We also have simultaneous translators being trained so that they can meet the standards of the European Union, including several translators from this institution. The standards there are very high, and it is quite an achievement to be accredited within that service. However, we have some wonderful translators here, who are more than able to reach those standards. Therefore, there will be an element of cost, but I am not sure where you are getting the idea of a substantial cost.

Peter Black:
That is why I asked you the question, because I did not believe that what I saw was realistic. Regarding the translators who are being trained, I presume that we are paying for the training; would we pay for the use of those translators in the European Union, or would the EU pick up that cost?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:
John has the answer to this.

Mr Howells:
We pay.

Peter Black:
So, what sort of cost are we talking about in terms of using those translators to provide the translation facilities?

Rhodri Glyn Thomas:
It depends on the uptake. Obviously, translating correspondence does not have a huge cost attached to it, but there will be some cost. However, if there are meetings, they will not be official EU meetings. For example, I was speaking at a meeting some months ago in Europe that was being translated into something like 50 languages—or there was translation from 50 languages. It was a strange situation, because the Minister from the Republic of Ireland, where about 3 per cent of the population speaks Irish, was able to speak in his native tongue, whereas I, representing a country where more than 21 per cent of the population speaks Welsh, was unable to speak in Welsh, because, at that point, Welsh was not officially recognised in Europe.

Therefore, in those sorts of circumstances, it would be possible to have simultaneous translation from Welsh as well—and there would be a cost element to it. I am not sure whether we are in a position to give you any figures; I am prepared to see whether we can come up with some figures, but I have not seen any figures.

Mr Howells:
The best that we can say is that we expect it to be modest. In a sense, it would be a nice problem to have, if the demand became significant. However, we have agreed to this development on the basis that we believe that we can accommodate these costs without busting the bank.

Peter Black:
What is 'modest’? Is it £50,000?

Mr Howells:
I would say less than that.

Would somebody like to shed some light on what exactly the controversy is please?
Could Eluned Morgan's cost figures of "£2.7 million a year, £530,000 for the Parliament alone" (letter in the 'Daily Post', 2.7.08) be the product of misinformation within the Welsh Labour Party?

I'm reminded that when I presented myself to provide the interpreting service for a single session of Welsh Labour's annual conference in February, a senior party member mentioned that a figure of £8,000 had been given to him by the party administration as the cost of providing an interpreting service for the full duration of a conference (three sessions).

Two weeks later, at the same venue, I provided the interpreting service for the whole of the Welsh Conservatives' annual conference (three sessions). Notwithstanding the need to hire in a considerably larger number of additional listening-headsets, the total cost was less than an eighth of the figure allegedly given by Welsh Labour head office.

It all rather smacks of an attempt to scupper the expansion of bilingual Welsh/English provision by making it appear prohibitively expensive.
Who is Mr Howells?
The civil servant in charge of the Heritage department.
It is expensive. Whether it is worth the expense ought to be for the people of Wales to decide.

A referendum on a bilingual Wales would seem appropriate to me.
In response to 'Anonymous':

Your assumption, perhaps, is that as Welsh-speakers are outnumbered four to one, such a referendum would be the perfect device for bringing about the removal of the Welsh language from public life, and its eventual extinction.

Such a line of argument highlights how it is possible to use democracy for the purposes of denying a minority its right to exist. And that is why no-one who truly believes in justice is any great friend of referenda.

Whilst I would not agree with a referendum on language, I would not assume that English speakers would be hostile to the idea of Welsh as a official language. I certainly would not.

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