Minister for culture attempted to stop ‘Welsh essential’ advert for head of National Library

Dafydd Elis-Thomas. Picture by the National Assembly (CC BY 2.0)

A Welsh Government Minister is under fire after trying to stop the job of National Librarian being advertised as requiring Welsh language skills.

90% of the National Library’s staff in Aberystwyth speak Welsh and the body works internally through the medium of the language.

In a response to a freedom of information request from Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, it was revealed that an official noted in an internal note in October last year that Minister Dafydd Elis-Thomas was ‘adamant’ that the post of National Librarian should not be advertising with Welsh speaking as an essential skill.

The civil servant added that he feared “it could prompt a damaging public row”, given that the Library was determined to make Welsh a requirement.

After asking the Minister again, another official said that Culture Minister Dafydd Elis-Thomas had said “this [post] should not be advertised as Welsh essential. He wants to attract the broadest field possible”.

In the end, the National Library President, Rhodri Glyn Thomas, ignored the pressure from the Minister to drop the requirement that candidates should be able to work in Welsh.

But the civil servant responded by warning the Library that they shouldn’t do that as the Minister would be “very unhappy” and “it could make things more difficult in terms of other National Library issues on which they are hoping to secure our support (e.g. the Broadcasting Archive)”.

Another civil servant noted: “Hopefully this won’t be another Sport Wales situation but…”

Welsh speaker Pedr ap Llwyd was appointed to the role in December.

‘Disgrace’

Responding to the news, Bethan Williams from Cymdeithas yr Iaith commented:

“The Minister’s behaviour is a disgrace, and it raises many serious questions that need answering. The National Library is one of those very few organisations which works internally through the medium of Welsh. If the Welsh language is to thrive, we need more of these types of bodies, not fewer.

“Appointing someone who doesn’t speak Welsh to the role would significantly undermine the status of Welsh and the language of work in the Library.

“That’s why it’s very concerning that the Government Minister has gone out of his way to intentionally threaten the Welsh language in this way. It also appears that the Minister has acted inappropriately in dealing with an independent body.

“The suggestion that making the language a condition in a job description would restrict the standard of candidates is insulting and seriously mistaken.

“In a body that uses Welsh as the main language of work, it’s obvious that someone who’s not Welsh speaking could not manage and lead the organisation.

“More generally, the Welsh Government has a very poor record when it comes to increasing the internal use of the Welsh language in the civil service and other public bodies. Creating and protecting Welsh language jobs and ensuring that more bodies work through the language is essential in order to reach the million Welsh speakers.

“We congratulate the National Library, and its President in particular, on standing up against the Minister’s inappropriate pressure on them to undermine the use of Welsh. It’s likely that there wouldn’t be many other bodies that would have firm enough leadership to reject the Government’s efforts.”

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