Northern Ireland news

Irish language and 'yellow vest' rallies held at Belfast City Hall

Belfast City Hall illuminated in red to mark two years since An Dream Dearg started their campaign for rights for the Irish language community. Picture by Mal McCann

DEMONSTRATORS voiced their support for an Irish Language Act and protested against austerity at the weekend in separate rallies staged at Belfast City Hall.

The building was illuminated in red late on Saturday afternoon as around 200 people gathered outside to call for greater protections for Irish speakers.

And earlier on the same day, around 200 campaigners took part in a "yellow vest" demonstration against austerity and called for action on a range of other issues.

City hall turned red to represent the main colour of the logo chosen by the campaign group An Dream Dearg (the red movement).

The group was marking the second anniversary of protests against a decision by then Stormont communities minister Paul Givan to scrap the Líofa scheme, which offered bursaries for people from low-income backgrounds to study in the Gaeltacht.

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, from An Dream Dearg, said: "This inspired a new grassroots campaign for Irish language rights here, calling for respect, recognition and rights, through the introduction of the Irish Language Act promised to us in 2006.

"Two years on and we are still calling for those rights, for that respect and to be officially recognised in law by this state. Today we say loud and clear that we will continue to do so until our rights are delivered."

While unionist councillors objected to the lighting of the building, the proposal was passed after being backed by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Alliance.

Sinn Féin has insisted it will only return to devolved government at Stormont if the DUP accedes to a stand-alone piece of legislation that grants protections for Gaelic speakers.

The DUP has said it will approve protections, but only as part of a wider cultural act, which also incorporates the Ulster Scots tradition.

The DUP has denied that it signed up to an Irish Language Act in 2006 during negotiations for the St Andrews Agreement, instead arguing that the commitment was made during a non-binding side deal between the British government and Sinn Féin.

Meanwhile, in a separate protest also held at city hall on Saturday, around 200 campaigners took part in a "yellow vest" demonstration.

A numbers of speakers addressed the crowd calling for a halt to public-sector cuts, the abolition of zero-hour contracts and a reversal of contentious changes to the welfare and benefits system.

Demonstrators also demanded reform of the region's restrictive laws on abortion and an end to its ban on same-sex marriage. There were also calls for full legalisation of medical cannabis.

The yellow vest movement originated in France amid public anger at fuel tax increases, but now encompasses a diverse and often competing range of political views, with both left and right-wing voices having adopted the vests as their symbol of protest.

In Britain, some have used the yellow-vest demonstrations to advocate far-right anti-immigration and anti-Islam messages.

People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll described the event as a "protest in solidarity with the yellow vest protest that exploded a few weeks ago on the streets of France".

"The yellow vest movement started off as a mass movement of working people. Is it true the far-right are trying to hijack it? Yes. Should they be allowed to? No," added Mr Carroll.

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