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Kenny urged to 'deliver promises' in plain English, going forward...


Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Taoiseach Enda Kenny

Collins Dublin, Gareth Chaney

Inez Bailey

Inez Bailey


Taoiseach Enda Kenny

THE agency dedicated to improving adult literacy is urging the Government to stop using nonsensical and convoluted jargon "going forward".

The National Adult Literacy Agency (NALA) has collected the signatures of close to 3,000 people on a petition urging Taoiseach Enda Kenny to ensure that all public information produced by the Government and State agencies in the future is written in plain English to eliminate confusing bureaucratic speak as well as save time and money.

The petition was inspired by a similar campaign in the UK where civil servants have effectively been banned from using convoluted and confusing phrases, as well as clichéd and hackneyed terms that have no real meaning.

The ban, contained in the civil service's 2013 style guide, includes well-worn phrases like "delivering promises", "tackling crime" and the much maligned corporate buzzword "going forward".

The US government has even enshrined the use of plain English by government in law after passing the Plain Writing Act of 2010 which requires all federal agencies to "use clear Government communication that the public can understand and use".

According to NALA chief executive Inez Bailey, the use of clear, concise language can also save both the private and public sectors millions of euro a year by increasing efficiencies and reducing the need for employees to spend endless hours on the phone each week explaining simple yet poorly communicated laws or regulations, bank statements and other public documents that can get lost in translation through bad writing.

British Telecom, for example, said it was getting over a million queries a year from customers who couldn't understand their phone bills. But after the company produced a bill using a "plain English approach" the number of queries fell by 25pc per quarter, Ms Bailey said.

Yet she said the use of confusing and awkward documents that can drive readers to distraction continues to proliferate at all levels of the Irish government.

Ms Bailey cited the following as an example of a badly constructed sentence by a local authority which could generate thousands of potential phone calls to both the local authority and Revenue Commissioners because it raises more questions than it answers.

"If the purpose of the payment is to finance construction work, it will be necessary for the contractor who is engaged by you to do the work to have a current C2 Certificate or a Tax Clearance Certificate from the Revenue Commissioners."

But by using "plain English" the same message can be easily understood by simply stating: "If you plan to use the grant to pay for building work, your builder must supply a C2 Certificate or Tax Clearance Certificate from the Revenue Commissioners."

NALA says all public information, including letters, forms and documents, should be written using simple, everyday words. Sentences should be limited to 15 to 20 words while font size in printed documents should be reader-friendly.

Issues of national importance, such as the upcoming referendum on same-sex marriage, must also be clearly spelt out without any confusing wording, Ms Bailey added.

She credited the historically high turnout of 85pc at last autumn's Scottish referendum on independence with a simple "yes or no" question put to voters.

"The Scottish referendum brought a lot of people out to vote because they worked very hard to make the proposition very clear," she told the Sunday Independent.

'Plain English' vs Gobbledegook

This standard hire purchase agreement would need a lawyer to decode:

"Title to property in the goods shall remain vested in the Company (notwithstanding the delivery of the same to the Customer) until the price of the Goods comprised in the contract and all other money due from the Customer to the Company on any other account has been paid in full."

Or, as simply translated by the National Adult Literacy Agency: "We will own the goods until you have finished paying for them."

Sunday Independent