A barman from the Kerry Gaeltacht of Corca Dhuibhne left his job in a famous Cork pub last month after a disagreement with the management about his use of Irish while he worked.
Cormac Ó Bruic was handed his P45 [Irish form detailing employee leaving work] from The Flying Enterprise, located on Sullivan's Quay in Cork City, when he failed to return to work after being warned he could no longer speak Irish on the premises.
On August 5, Ó Bruic received a warning from Finbarr O’Shea, the owner of the Flying Enterprise Complex, a well-known bar and restaurant in the city. The verbal warning informed him that the establishment was “English-only,” referencing Ó Bruic’s habit of speaking Irish with several of his co-workers or with Irish-speaking customers. According to Ó Bruic, O’Shea told him that complaints had been received in which customers stated they felt “uncomfortable” about the use of Irish around them.
The previous day the Kerry native had been asked to stop speaking Irish by the owner’s wife and initially believed he was to receive an apology when approached by O’Shea.
“I thought he was going to apologize. Instead he said ‘it is forbidden to speak Irish in my establishment,’” Ó Bruic said.
“If there was a language code, I would not have signed it. If there was a section that said I could not speak Irish, I would never have signed,” he added, referring to a lack of knowledge of any previous English-only policy in the pub.
Unwilling to work under such discriminatory circumstances and unable to come to an agreement with the management, the barman left the premises to consider his future employment with the bar and as a result received word on August 11 that his contract had been terminated.
The bar owners have since defended their actions, stating that it was Ó Bruic who walked out of an HR process and that English was “the most sensible and practical language” for the workplace.
“We wish to clarify that Cormac was not fired or dismissed nor did we intend to fire or dismiss Cormac in this regard. However while Cormac did initially engage with the HR process he decided to leave before the process was concluded,” O’Shea wrote in a statement posted to Facebook.
He added that the warning had nothing to do with Irish, in particular, but regarded the use of only English within his establishment.
“In many ways we were surprised by the comments attributed to our former employee Cormac O’Bruic (sic) in yesterday’s media. This matter is certainly not about the Irish language,” he said.
“We currently employ up to seventy people and of them there are six different nationalities who all speak their native language. They respect that while at work the most sensible and practical language to speak is English.”
Twenty-three-year old Ó Bruic is a native of an Fheothanach in Corca Dhuibhne and Irish is his first language. He told the Irish Times he had no previous issues at the pub, where he supervised 12 other members of staff and was entrusted with the keys to the premises.
The Flying Enterprise has been met with much criticism for banning Irish, the official language of the country, from being spoken by its employees.
Conradh na Gaeilge, a national organization that works to promote the use of Irish as the standard language in Ireland, announced that the Ó Bruic case highlighted the need for legislative protection for language rights in the workplace.
“Cormac Ó Bruic’s case highlights the urgent need to include an Irish-language provision in the relevant legislation to protect the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community from discrimination on the grounds of language in the workplace due to speaking the first official language of the state,” said Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill, President of Conradh na Gaeilge.
“It’s unfortunate that a company is prohibiting an employee to deal with the public in an official language of the state, if that is their wish.”
This is how I feel about the Flying Enterprise debacle pic.twitter.com/b6ImO5kPFw— Chalupa Batman (@O_Conartist) September 9, 2016
Conradh na Gaeilge also called on the management of The Flying Enterprise to ensure that no further employees are prohibited from using Irish in the workplace, highlighting research carried out by the organization which showed 42% of people in the Republic of Ireland agree that the Irish language is a unique selling point for businesses.
“The relevant legislation needs to be amended – be that the Employment Equality Act or the Official Languages Act or other legislation – to safeguard each employee’s right to use Irish in the workplace and to authorise The Language Commissioner to investigate any discrimination such as that in the Ó Bruic case,” said Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge.
“It is unfortunate that the management of The Flying Enterprise has taken this stance against the use of Irish in this instance, not only because the case infringes on language and therefore human rights, but neither does the management seem to see the benefits that promoting the Irish language could give the establishment. More and more companies around the world are embracing Irish as a unique selling point.”
A protest was organized on Friday outside the establishment by the Cork branch of the Irish language rights group Misneach.
“Irish is the national language of Ireland and it is the right of every citizen to use it if and when they please,” said Misneach spokesperson Lar Ó Tuama.
A further protest was organized yesterday by Gael-Taca, Cork city’s largest Irish organization.
What's the flying enterprise playing at like, a big business like that in Cork should be encouraging Irish if anything! Have a bit of cop on— Sean Healy (@seanmhealy) September 9, 2016
Protest organised against Flying Enterprise, for banning Irish, already https://t.co/pAVxTsY290— Colette Browne (@colettebrowne) September 9, 2016