MERVYN PAULEY: Ireland Adding to Confusion of Babeldom

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THE lack of a common language is one of the European Union's biggest handicaps. Yet no significant steps are being taken to acquire a common tongue.

With 25 nationalities and 20 languages represented in the European parliament - there are some 450 linguistic permutations - the EU readily qualifies as a modern- day Babel, with knobs on.

It is against this complex backdrop that the Dublin government has sought to have the Irish language given full working status in the EU.

It is, of course, perfectly entitled to do so, even though less than half of the Republic's population speaks Gaelic.

The push to see it established as the EU's 21st official language, however, will be costly as well as controversial, particularly if taxpayers in the South are left to pick up a sizeable share of the bill.

The cost of the operation, it is estimated, would be some pounds 37 million.

It would involve translating thousands of EU documents into Gaelic, and making interpretation available in the European parliament. Translating all EU laws into Irish alone would come to pounds 16m a year.

This is a mere drop in the ocean when set against the vast amount of money Europe spends - and often misspends - each year.

Its economy is a veritable black hole that seems to thrive on corruption and fraud on a grand scale.

Critics of the Dublin move argue that the money earmarked for it could be more usefully spent on other, more pressing projects.

The cost worries not only non-Gaelic speakers but those fluent in the minority language. One such is Labour MEP Proinsias de Rossa.

He describes the outlay as "horrendous" and says it would be unrealistic to make Irish a working language in the European parliament.

Dublin seems fired, however, by an almost missionary zeal, and expects the change to be approved within months. …