Interpretation and construction of bilingual laws: a canadian lamp to light the way?

AuthorDáithí Mac Cárthaigh
PositionB.A., M.A., LL.B., B.L.
2007] Interpretation of Bilingual Laws 211
The Taoiseach is empowered, pursuant to Article 25.5 of
Bunreacht na hÉireann, to cause to be enrolled in the office of the
Registrar of the Supreme Court a text of the Constitution in both
official languages signed by the President, the Chief Justice and
the Taoiseach as conclusive evidence of the provisions of the
Constitution as amended. Article 25.5.4˚ provides that in case of
conflict between the texts of any copy of the Constitution so
enrolled, the text in the national language shall prevail.
Similarly, the remaining sections of Article 25 (25.1-25.4)
provide for the issuing of legislation bilingually. The Constitution
envisages that bills may be presented and passed by the
Oireachtas and then signed by the President either unilingually
(either Irish only or English only) or bilingually and that, where a
bill is passed and signed unilingually, that an official translation
be issued in the other official language.1
In Ó Beoláin v. Fahy2 the Supreme Court granted a
declaration that under Article 25.4.4˚ the State has a constitutional
duty to issue this official translation when the President signs the
text of a unilingual bill.
This is a continuation of the simultaneous procedure as set
out under Article 42 of the Irish Free State Constitution which
provided as follows:
As soon as may be after any law has received the King’s
assent, the clerk, or such officer as Dáil Éireann may
appoint for the purpose, shall cause two fair copies of
B.A., M.A., LL.B., B.L.
1 Article 25.4.4˚.
Judicial Studies Institute Journal [2007:2
such law to be made, one being in the Irish language and
the other in the English language (one of which copies
shall be signed by the Representative of the Crown to be
enrolled for record in the office of such officer of the
Supreme Court as Dáil Éireann may determine), and
such copies shall be conclusive evidence as to the
provisions of every such law, and in case of conflict
between the two copies so deposited, that signed by the
Representative of the Crown shall prevail.
In the case of bills passed and signed in the bilingual format,
Article 25.4.6˚ provides that in case of conflict between the texts,
the text in the national language shall prevail. In the case of
unilingual bills, the Constitution only requires that the text which
was passed by the Oireachtas and signed by the President be
enrolled in the Office of the Registrar of the Supreme Court as
conclusive evidence of its provisions (Article 25.4.5˚). It is
curious that the 1937 Constitution, in contrast with the Irish Free
State Constitution, is silent in relation to the enrolment or
deposition of the unsigned text, although the procedures of the
Houses of the Oireachtas themselves and the Translation Section
in particular enable the verification of the authenticity of the
unsigned text.
It is clear from Irish jurisprudence in this area that the
raison d’être of such translations is to facilitate their use and the
use of both official languages, in particular in the course of
litigation. As stated by O’Hanlon J. in Delap v. Minister for
Justice3 in relation to the Irish translation of the Rules of the
Superior Courts:
[The applicant] has the right under the Constitution to
conduct his side of the proceedings entirely in the Irish
language if he desires to choose the first official
language. I am of the opinion that there is a great obstacle
in his path if he desires to use the Irish language but if at
the same time there is no official version available of the
law found in the rules concerning the regulation of such
proceedings or of the forms which accompany them and
that he is not being accorded equal treatment in that case
3 (1980-1998) I.R.S.R. 116.

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