The Central Applications Office has lost a High Court challenge to a Ministerial decision to designate it a 'public body' under the Official Languages Act.

The designation requires the CAO to produce its official documents and conduct its business through Irish as well as English.

Mr Justice John MacMenamin yesterday rejected the CAO's argument that the Minister for Rural, Community and Gaeltacht Affairs acted in excess of his powers under the Official Languages Act 2003 when he decided in April 2006 to designate the CAO a ‘public body’.

The judge also remarked he found it difficult to discern in the evidence any significant degree of 'detriment' sustained by the CAO as a result of being designated.

The CAO has already moved to provide documents and materials in both the Irish and English languages on request, he said.

The designation also did not affect the 'public' or 'private' status of the body concerned except for the purposes of the 2003 Act itself, he added.

Earlier, the judge noted the CAO is a non-profit company limited by guarantee and established in 1976.

It normally employs ten people but that number increases at peak examination times.

Its principal function was to centrally process and prioritise applications for admissions to third level colleges and institutions.

The CAO does not receive public funding, although it received seed capital when established, he noted.

Its revenue was largely derived from student application fees and the State had no responsibility for its operation.

Bodies which were formerly owned by the State but now under private ownership or control also came within the range of entities which may be designated under the Act, he noted.

Such bodies included Aer Lingus and various hospital boards.