IRISH language speakers are being treated with “total disrespect” over Stormont’s failure to introduce an Irish language Act.
That is according to the Irish language body Conradh na Gaeilge (CnaG).
Dr Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, from CnaG, told the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement a delay in language legislation was “hugely frustrating”.
Politicians called for the legislation to be implemented immediately.
Draft provisions for new Irish language laws were included in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement in January 2020.
That was alongside a new Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, and a commissioner for the “Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition” in the North of Ireland.
The Irish language bill would also lead to the appointment of an Irish language commissioner to ensure public bodies met standards for service in Irish.
However, what the commissioner proposes must be approved by the first and deputy first minister before becoming practice.
That had led some Irish speakers to warn they could face “a battle a day” to get services in the language.
But Dr Ó Tiarnaigh told the joint committee – which includes TDs and Senators from the Republic of Ireland and MPs and MLAs from Northern Ireland – that while the legislation was “far from perfect” it would make a difference.
He said it was important that the laws promised in NDNA were implemented before the next assembly election due in May 2022.
“We’re very wary not to let this run into another election, we’re very wary not to let the Irish language be used or misused as an election issue,” Dr Ó Tiarnaigh said.
“It’s not the best legislation by any means but we have to get what’s promised in the bank now and start rolling that out and see how it impacts communities on the ground.
“We are hugely frustrated that we haven’t had the opportunity to see the legislation or the strategy promised come into effect yet.”
Dr Ó Tiarnaigh said he understood that the coronavirus pandemic had led to delays at Stormont and that also meant there would be no Irish language demonstrations in the near future.
“That said, normal legislative procedures are up and running, Stormont is up and running, the assembly is up and running, the executive is up and running,” he said.
“We are hamstrung a bit with Covid. It would be irresponsible of us to take 10,000 people with us to the streets of Belfast for an Irish language march.”
He told the committee than CnaG were seeking meetings with Northern Ireland Office ministers and the Irish Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney TD.
“You’re getting treated with total disrespect in terms of how Welsh speakers are treated and how Scots speakers are treated,” he said.
“The main bulwark of our work going forward is getting the legislation on the books.
“There would be a huge crisis of confidence if this current mandate finished and those cornerstone issues weren’t implemented.”
Dr Niall Comer from CnaG also told the committee that Irish language legislation “is something that we can’t delay anymore”.
The Sinn Féin MP John Finucane agreed, saying that the importance of introducing legislation “extends beyond the Irish language”.
“This is an issue that goes to the heart of previous agreements,” he said.
Sinn Féin Senator Niall Ó Donnghaile said there was a “real urgency” for laws to be brought into effect.
The Alliance MP Stephen Farry praised the language activist Linda Ervine for raising the profile of Irish in “non-traditional” communities.
He also said his party would honour the language commitments in NDNA.
“No legislation has gone to the Northern Ireland Executive as far as I’m aware at this stage,” he said.
“So in practice there’s less than a year to take this legislation forward.
“I am very fearful that especially with an election coming up and also with the very febrile nature of politics in Northern Ireland that attempts will be made to unpick what was agreed.”
“The best way to get this on to the statute books is to play this with a very straight bat.”
All of the politicians on the joint committee – including those from Fine Gael, Fianna Fáil, Labour and independents – supported CnaG’s calls for the Irish government, the British government and the NI Executive to implement the language legislation agreed in NDNA.
They supported a motion calling for them write to Mr Coveney and the British Secretary of State Brandon Lewis, as well as the executive “to request that they ensure that the Irish language legislation and the Irish Language Strategy mentioned in the ‘New Decade New Approach’ Agreement are implemented without further delay”.Tags: