Bunreacht na hÉireann lost in Translation?
Expert in the Irish language, Micheál O’Cearúil’s: “Bunreacht na hÉireann: A Study of the Irish Text”; produced on behalf of the All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution with foreword by Brian Lenihan T.D and then chairman of the Committee, sets out to remedy perceived deviations between the Irish text of the Constitution and English translations in common usage. The importance of this study cannot be stressed enough. Page 1 of the Introduction admits that “almost every section of the Constitution contains divergences of some degree between the two texts”, this is worrying to say the least and surely this should merit a correction in the translations.
Bunreacht na hÉireann is binding upon all organs and agents of the State, it limits the scope of government power, facilitates a system of ‘checks and balances’, and lists rights guaranteed to the citizens. It is essential for a free people to be fully and openly informed regarding the contents of a Constitution, divergences or deviations of any kind should be viewed with scrutiny.
Consider the following examples:
Article 40.3.1 of the Literal English translation the “State guarantees not to interfere by its laws with the personal rights of any citizen, and...to defend and assert those rights with its laws in so far as it is possible”. Whereas in the common English translation the State only guarantees to “respect, and, as far as practicable, by it’s laws defend and vindicate the personal rights of the citizen.”
There is quite a big difference between asserting “those rights as far possible” and having “respect” for them “as far is it is practicable”. Some might say that this is an appeal to semantics but the constitution is suppose to written in plain understandable language, why deviate from the literal translation at all if it makes more sense?
More blatant are the deviations as can be seen in Article 41.1.1. Literally translated from Irish it acknowledges the Family as a “moral institution which has inalienable invincible rights which are more ancient and higher than any human statute”. Whereas the translation in modern usage also recognises the family as a moral institution, however they are “possessed” with “inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.” The latter is unnecessarily overcomplicated and cloaks the reality of the people’s power. Under the literal translation our status in relation to the Government is quite clear.
One might argue that these discrepancies are insignificant and besides Article 25.5.4 provides that the Irish text prevails in the event of a conflict. However, far from correcting the divergences, this significant document; previously available from the Government Publications Office on Molesworth Street, was pulled from print without explanation at some time before the second Lisbon referendum. This version containing the Irish text and both the literal and modern translations, not to mention an in-depth analysis of the divergences between the two, is no longer available to the public. The All Party Oireachtas Committee on the Constitution have somehow decided in our ‘best interest’ that this document should no longer be produced. Perhaps there was an element of deception when producing the modern translations; who knows? Thankfully however, the Committee have made electronic copies available, tucked away at the bottom of their ‘Publications’ page. (Download the text from here: http://www.constitution.ie/publications/irish-text.pdf). Get to know the real Constitution...
By: Kevin: O’Flannagáin
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