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Welsh Language Re-included in Council during Pandemic

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After facing criticism, the city council in Denbighshire, Wales will now allow Zoom in council meetings to better serve Welsh language speakers with simultaneous translation in meetings.

After failing to provide Welsh interpretation services for meetings throughout the pandemic, a city council in Wales has set plans to reincorporate Welsh translation into future meetings. At the onset of the pandemic, an issue arose around security issues with Zoom, driving the council to use a system that does not support simultaneous translation for meetings. However, the exclusion of Welsh language services drew criticism.

Cllr Mabon ap Gwynfor, chair of the Welsh Language Steering committee on Denbighshire council, commented in a letter to fellow members that language is not a “nicety that could be put aside.” He acknowledged in the letter the unprecedented nature of the pandemic but added that the situation proved Welsh was “not a key consideration” for the council.

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“We’ve not had any Welsh translation in any of our meetings since lockdown,” he said. “Other councils have held meetings with translation for many months because, when they looked at the technology and planned for meetings, it was an essential requirement.”

A Denbighshire council spokesman said that due to concerns about security, the meetings had used the in-house video conferencing platform, which lacks the capacity to provide Welsh translation. However, with the many security improvements on Zoom, along with the app’s simultaneous translation capabilities, the council would employ Zoom for all future council meetings.

“The council is integrating Zoom with its existing council chamber conferencing system, which includes simultaneous interpretation and webcasting,” the spokesman said. “Denbighshire’s solution will provide a permanent bilingual, hybrid meeting system that will meet the Welsh Government’s expected legislative changes next year. It is anticipated that the hybrid meetings installation will have been completed in early October and subject to satisfactory testing may be available for conducting bilingual public meetings later in the month.”

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Hybrid meetings, where some members attend via video conferencing software and others in person in the council chamber, are currently only legal due to emergency legislation brought in because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many councils are now preparing for a permanent change in legislation next year, which would see local authorities able to hold hybrid gatherings. Some councils believe the move will boost attendance at meetings and increase engagement with the public.

“It seems that here in Denbighshire it was felt that it was either not a consideration when planning for meetings or was deemed nonessential,” said Cllr ap Gwynfor, adding that he is “far more comfortable” expressing himself in Welsh, which is also the first language of his wife and four children too. He added, “It’s the language I dream in, I think in, and live my life through. It’s not acceptable that our language has been dismissed.”

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