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Devolved forces tackle language barriers to help meet targets

Leaders in Northern Ireland and Wales are set to increase native language support.

Police in devolved governments are working on plans to improve how they communicate in Celtic languages.

The Police Federation and Welsh forces are increasing work to prepare for a devolved government target of having a million Welsh speakers by 2050.

And Northern Ireland’s force is looking at new legislation that will introduce Irish language into government business.

The Welsh Fed is working towards having training documents, email signatures, advice and information pamphlets as dual language.

Official documents have had to do this since 2010 but the Fed has been exempt because it is not a government organisation.

A third of officers and staff serving with North Wales are bilingual and speak Welsh fluently. 

And the government target means change is now inevitable.

Police Federation leader in Wales, Nicky Ryan, told Police Oracle: “Many of our members are Welsh first language speakers. We are going to have to do the same as our four forces and work with them in future. We’re calling it linguistic courtesy.”

She explained: “Officers will have been educated through the medium of Welsh, have homes in communities where it is the first language and have to communicate. We’re trying to be inclusive and reassure people that PFEW is their Federation.”

It came as the government began legislation that will provide official recognition of the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland for the first time. It will also recognise Scots Gaelic.

Similar to Scotland’s approach, the public sector – including Police Service of Northern Ireland - will have to communicate everything from signposts to call centre instructions in both languages.

The changes will be overseen by a new Commissioner.

The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill was introduced in the House of Lords by the government this week.

The Northern Ireland Office said: “This Bill will deliver a balanced package of measures on identity, language and cultural matters that was negotiated as part of the New Decade New Approach deal and will benefit all communities in Northern Ireland, including speakers of the Irish language and the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition.”

But it’s not a surprise move. Gaelic is being taught to increasing numbers. And part of the peace dividend has included the opening of a language and heritage centre in Belfast’s Gaeltacht Quarter – a recommendation of the Dutton report.

But challenges remain. PSNI has appealed for information and Crime Stoppers offered £5,000 reward after a fire at a multi-cultural centre which is being treated as arson.

Critics were warned that the divergence of languages in UK government should not be dismissed.

Nicky Ryan said: “You can’t say it only affects a small number of people. It depends on what your perception is. If it’s part of the culture of where you come from, it’s very important.”

Police Scotland is also developing language plan which will run until 2026.

Force livery on cars and buildings in citiies has been changed to combine English with Gaelic. 

The force said “We work hard to ensure language is not a barrier for anyone who needs us. Alongside this work, we will continue to support the Gaelic language, so that it continues to be visible and audible throughout our organisation and within the diverse communities we serve.”

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