Close to €750,000 was spent by the government over the last three years paying more than 40 lawyers €300 a week and €80 a night accommodation expenses to attend a special course in the Irish language so they would be available to work in the EU.

But to date, just four lawyers have been hired by EU institutions as specialists in the Irish language. The payments to the lawyers – mainly barristers – to attend the 16-week intensive course are now "under review", Minister for the Gaeltacht, Community and Rural Affairs, Pat Carey said last week.

Of the total of 44 lawyers who participated in the course, 33 completed it and four are working as lawyer-linguists in the EU.

Minister Carey said that he was advised by Kings Inns, which runs the Irish language courses in Dublin, "that it is not aware of any incidents of these payments being abused in the past."

While the minister said it is intended to run another course in 2010, he added that "in view of the changed economic circumstances, the question of payment of a stipend and accommodation expenses is currently under review".

The minister said that after Irish was made an official language of the EU in January 2007, there was an urgent demand from EU institutions for people with specialist knowledge of Irish, particularly lawyers. In response, the government set up the Advanced Irish Language Skills Initiative in 2006 to ensure the EU had access to professionals with in-depth knowledge of Irish.