A screengrab of the Arts Council board member application page

The public notice or advertisement kicks off with a nice clunky sentence and a passive verb:

Expressions of interest are invited from members of the public to join the Board of the Arts Council.

See? Passive voice because that’s what the State likes to talk in: sentences in which the verbs are passive, and where the subject undergoes the action rather than doing it; sentences in which it’s unclear that there’s even an actor.

(And what, I hear you ask, are the arts without actors?)

Yes, sentences where the subject isn’t “(members of) the public” (or the Arts Council or even the Minister) but something far more abstract called “expressions”, and where it’s never clear who is doing the inviting.

The “Expressions of interest” sentence in question comes from a public notice on a website called Stateboards.ie. No, not SKATEboards.ie but STATEboards.ie.

Anyway. It goes on:

The Minister…

(Stop the lights: which Minister? The page keeps us guessing for the next couple of hundred words, though many readers would already have a fair idea. It turns out to be Ireland’s “Minister for Arts, Heritage, Regional, Rural and the Gaeltacht Affairs”. Hold on: that’s almost but not quite her long-winded official title. Her own public notice can’t even get that right. It should be plain “Gaeltacht Affairs”, not “the Gaeltacht Affairs”. The page is a litany of little errors like that, but let’s try to plod on.)

The Minister welcomes applications representative of the diversity of the Irish population, particularly reflecting gender, geography and cultural interests.

Does she really mean applications (things) rather than applicants (people)? A certain range of applications perhaps, rather than any one particular application being representative of diversity? Confusing. Anyway, the notice carries on again in that dreary, monotonous, passive voice…

It is desirable that all applicants possess the following

So we are talking about applicants after all. But IT is desirable? Why can’t the Minister just say it like it is, in plain English? “I want”, “I need”, “I DESIRE…”

Among the qualities that “it is desirable” that all applicants have (or that they possess, because “possess” possesses that extra syllable, right?) is:

A broader understanding of the arts and cultural sector.

Seriously. That’s what it says. All applicants should possess “a broader understanding”. Broader than what? The present government’s? The Arts Minister’s? The previous board’s? Broader than the other applicants’ understanding? But it says that all applicants must have this understanding. And it must be broader. A comparative adjective.

Do they mean plain “broad”? If so, say so.

“It is desirable” too, they continue, that all applicants have:

A demonstrable understanding the role of a state agency and the compliance responsibilities for board members.

“Compliance responsibilities”, I kid you not. Yet read the above phrase carefully. The Minister’s people clearly haven’t bothered to: the word “of” is missing after “understanding”. Yet another careless mistake among the Minister’s desirables.

After yet more of it I gave up. I no longer cared about what the Minister desired – if, indeed, it was she who was doing the desiring. It’s never clear, is it, when they talk at you in that passive voice with all those desirables.

I had to remind myself that the organisation responsible for this public notice was a State body. The Minister herself might not have come up with the exact words of the announcement, busy as she is with the doings of her Department of This and That and The Gaeltacht Affairs, but surely the advertisement must have been drafted – or at least “proofed”, presumably – by full-time, well-paid public servants.

Call me a grammar Nazi, but we’re not talking about a casual tweet here, or an off-the-cuff blog post there. It’s not a private, informal letter or even an internal memo dashed off at great speed. It is an official, public notice setting out certain “desirable” criteria for those seeking public office in Ireland.

(And no, it’s not helping out on the committee of your local schoolboy league soccer club or voluntary work for a charity. The six new board members will be expected “to contribute up to 15 full days a year” to the Arts Council. For this each will be paid €5,985 a year. This works out as at least €399 a day, plus travel expenses and subsistence. Personally, I don’t know anyone working in the arts – I nearly said arts sector – who earns anywhere near €399 a day, let alone travel and subsistence at civil servant rates. End of secondary rant.)

Bureaucrats who write in their officialese about “expressions of interest” and “compliance responsibilities” and suchlike should come down off their tall stools once in a while and take a long hard look at their constipated prose with its terrible typos. Because, well, it is desirable.

Oh shite, nearly forgot. There’s one more thing they say “it is desirable that all applicants possess”:

The ability to communicate effectively.

Now I can’t end without mentioning the National Adult Literary Agency (NALA). Among all its fine work it produces “Plain English” guidelines, and a “Plain English guidelines at a glance” version. It’s a short document, just two A4 pages, big type. If you care about writing and communicating you should know its rules (OK, not so much rules but excellent suggestions) by heart.

The first two rules go like this:

Think of the person reading your information.
Make it clear whom you are writing to or about by using “I”, “we” and “you” where you can.

Be direct and use the active voice most of the time.
Try to put the person, group or thing doing the action at the start of the sentence as much as possible. For example, say, “We will decide on your application soon” instead of “A decision on your application will be made soon.”

These are simple, sensible, excellent guidelines. Yet they are clearly not good enough for the Arts Minister or whichever of her minions is responsible for this sloppy nonsense.

PS: I don’t think “a decision on my application will be made” in the foreseeables either.