Irish language is still a hot button issue in Northern Ireland
2019-07-01 14:43:49 -

By Jessica Ní Mháirtín


As yet another day passes, the controversy surrounding the Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland is still not resolved between Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).


The Irish language has been protected and given way for enhancement within public services in the Republic of Ireland since protests in 2014. With similar legislation for respective languages in both Wales and Scotland, all three countries are providing their people with access to their language, regardless of whether that language is a minor language or not.


The situation in Northern Ireland is quite different. DUP leader Arlene Foster has made statements many consider questionable about the proposed Irish Language Act, and has even suggested that bringing in a Polish language act would be more useful.


According to reports, the estimated outgoing cost of the new act is to hit roughly €8.5m in the first five years and €2m thereafter.


However, aside from providing part of the state with services in their own native tongue, there is an idea that the DUP could be rejecting the proposal because the new services would create job opportunities and better the economy for nationalists over unionists.


While the act is supported, or at least not opposed, across Northern Ireland’s five other main political parties, it is still the main obstruction between the DUP and Sinn Féin.


More than 10 primary and post-primary school children attended a protest outside Stormont on 31 May in favour of the Irish Language Act.


“The Irish language community has organised and mobilised for years on the issue of language rights and respect,” Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin stated outside Stormont, speaking on behalf of An Dream Dearg.


“Now it is up to our parties and both Governments to finally resolve this issue. In 2006 the British and Irish governments presided over the St Andrews Agreement. In that agreement there was a clear and unambiguous commitment given that the British Government would introduce an Irish language Act ‘reflecting the experience of Wales and Ireland’.


“Almost 13 years on and we are still waiting. The two governments have a crucial role to play here. They are not neutral bystanders in the talks but instead have a clear outstanding duty to our community. They cannot pass the buck any longer on this issue.


“What we are calling for is a rights-based return to devolution. A government that facilitates the exclusion of our community and the denial of our language rights is not fit for purpose. Now is the time to get this right, both in terms of content and legislative structure. Let that be based on best practise and linguistic need and not political expediency,” he added.


An Dream Dearg, along with Conradh na Gaeilge, have been organising events with the slogan ‘dearg le fearg’ and ‘tír gan teanga, tír gan anam’ which have become increasingly known since the (very successful) Lá Dearg in the Republic of Ireland in 2014.


Both organisations, along with MLAs from the other five political parties who support the act, hope that there is an agreement sooner rather than later between Sinn Féin and the DUP to provide the people of the North with basic language rights.

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