Gaelgeoirí groups demand respect for Irish language

John Manley Political Correspondent

TWO groups representing Gaeilgeoirí travelled to Stormont yesterday to demand fair treatment and respect for the Irish language.

The action by Irish language umbrella advocacy group Pobal and the east Belfast Irish language learners' project Turas comes on the back of recent insults directed at the language from DUP MP Gregory Campbell.

On two separate occasions in recent weeks the East Derry representative has mocked the Irish language by using the term 'curry my yogurt', a parody of 'go raibh maith agat' - the Irish for 'thank you'.

Mr Campbell also told delegates at last month's DUP conference that his party would use Sinn Féin's talks' wish list -- including an Irish language act -- as "toilet paper".

Pobal chief executive Janet Muller and Linda Ervine of Turas delivered a letter to MLAs calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act -- a pledge given in 2006 St Andrews Agreement which led to the restoration of devolution.

According to Ms Muller, the last census showed there are 185,000 people in Northern Ireland with a knowledge of Irish -- almost 11 per cent of the population.

"For a significant number of Irish-speakers in Northern Ireland, Irish is their language of choice, which they use every day in the home, in the neighbourhood, in social activities and in the workplace," she said.

"In addition, Irish is an rich, ancient language with a treasury of literature."

The Pobal representative said the Irish language was recognised by the European Union and in "significant clauses of the Good Friday Agreement".

"It is apparent, unfortunately, that all this is insufficient to protect the language from uninformed attacks or from negative, sectarian policies and decisions," she said.

Mrs Ervine, the sister-in- law of late Progressive Unionist Party leader David Ervine, said the Irish language "can and should belong to everyone".

"We all share a linguistic heritage and Irish has the potential to unite all the people who share this island. It is not just here, either where people of all ages and backgrounds are learning and appreciating the Irish language," she said.

The Turas representative pointed to groups and classes elsewhere in Europe, Australia and North America, where a "living Gaeltacht" had been established in Canada.

"The importance of language legislation to support the growth and development of endangered languages is widely recognised," Mrs Ervine said.

"There are language acts in the south, in Wales and in Scotland -- Northern Ireland is the only place on these islands where there is no domestic legislation to protect the primary indigenous language."

Both women said their letter was necessary to highlight the "disappointment and anger caused by a series of divisive and insulting comments about the language".

Copies of the joint letter were sent to Secretary of State Theresa Villiers, the Republic's minister for foreign affairs Charlie Flanagan and US envoy to the all-party talks Gary Hart.

* HERITAGE: Pádraig Mac Fhearraigh of Pobal, Pobal chief executive Janet Muller, Linda Ervine of Turas and Labour's parliamentary candidate in Scotland for the Western Isles Alasdair Morrison at Stormont yesterday to invite all political parties to accept a joint Pobal-Turas letter outling concern over recent negative comments about the Irish language



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