(Feb. 17, 2009) Prior to 2008, in order to become a barrister in Ireland, a person had to pass an examination to prove that he or she was “competent” in the Irish language. (Legal Practioners (Qualification) Act, 1929 (Act No. 16/1929 (Ir.), http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/1929/en/act/pub/0016/index.html (last visited Feb. 9, 2009)). Although Irish (which is often referred to as “Irish Gaelic”) is the country's first official language and is taught in public schools, the number of persons who have studied law and are able to converse with clients and present oral arguments in that language is very limited. The Government of Ireland has responded to this situation by reforming the language requirements for barristers through the enactment of the Legal Practitioners (Irish Language) Act, 2008 (Act No. 10/2008 (Ir.), http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2008/en/act/pub/0012/sec0001.html (last visited Feb. 9, 2009)).
Under the new law, a course of instruction in the Irish language for persons attempting to qualify as barristers is optional. However, the law also requires the Council of the Honorable Society of King's Inns to offer an advanced course in Irish and to ensure “in so far as it is reasonable for it to do so” that “an adequate number of barristers-at-law are … able to practice law through the Irish language as well as through the English language.” (Id., S. 1(2).) Thus, the new law places greater emphasis on having a group of barristers who are fully fluent in Irish and less emphasis on all barristers having a level of familiarity with the language that is sufficient to pass an examination but not to conduct all of their activities in that language.
The decline of the native language in Ireland has long been a major concern of the Government. In 2003, the Official Languages Act was enacted to further promote the use of Irish throughout the country. (Act No. 32/2003, http://www.irishstatutebook.ie/2003/en/act/pub/0032/index.html (last visited Feb. 10, 2009)). Subsequently, the Department of Community Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs commissioned a Comprehensive Linguistic Study of the Use of Irish in the Gaeltacht that was published in 2007. The study's principle findings and recommendations are available online (http://www.pobail.ie/en/AnGhaeltacht/LinguisticStudyoftheGaeltacht/ (last visited Feb. 9, 2009)). The study recognized that despite the government's legal reforms, Irish remains an endangered language most often spoken by elderly persons.