Northern Ireland news

Musicians and sports stars among big names in call for Irish Language Act

Damien Dempsey described Irish as `an ancient bejewelled language'

AN OPEN letter to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and British prime minister Theresa May demanding an Irish Language Act from leading figures in the civic and political spheres is published in today's Irish News.

More than 200 prominent names - from education and academia, arts and sports, trade union and human rights activism and the law - signalled their support for the cause in the message to the leaders compiled by the grassroots campaign group, An Dream Dearg.

They cite both the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to take "resolute action" on the Irish Language and the British government's undertaking in the St Andrews Agreement to "introduce and Irish Language Act".

Click here to see the letter

Among the signatories are Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown, singer and songwriter Damien Dempsey, Hillsborough Independent Panel's Phil Scraton, Irish language advocate Linda Ervine, former GAA stars Peter Canavan and Jarlath Burns and Belfast boxers Michael Conlon, Paddy Barnes and Sean McComb.

Human rights lawyers Niall Murphy and Pádraig Ó Muirigh also both appear on the list, which shares many signatories with a similar `civic nationalism' letter last year urging the Taoiseach to "defend the rights of Irish citizens in the north" during the Brexit process.

Human rights lawyer Padraig O Muirigh. Picture by Niall Carson /PA Wire

QUB human rights professor Colin Harvey said there is "a rights and equality crisis in this society" and the time to wait "is over".

"This is the moment for solidarity, a moment for holding the line together for a better future. They will say it cannot be done. But it must be done."

Damien Dempsey described Irish as "an ancient bejewelled language that's far more poetic than any of the European languages, (with) far more words... and one of the oldest languages in Europe".

"A huge amount of ancient European literature was saved from extinction in the dark ages by Irish monks copying it in Gaeilge and keeping it safe in remote monasteries around Ireland," he added.

Meanwhile, Patricia McKeown said trade unionists are "advocates for equality and human rights (and) we know that language rights are human rights".

"Promises made must be delivered to ensure parity of esteem," she said.

"We are calling for the return of our government within an equality and rights based framework as set out in the UNISON and Equality Coalition manifestos."

An Dream Dearg spokesman Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin said there clear demand for the act "across our communities".

"Five parties support legislation, the Council of Europe and the UN have called for it and most importantly, ordinary people from across society have engaged with our campaign in unprecedented numbers, demonstrating the huge support that exists for the Act," he said.

"Irish belongs to us all and this letter demonstrates once again that many people here are committed to protecting and promoting our native language moving forward.

"That is done through legislation, the type of rights-based legislation that was promised to us in 2006.

"If we are sincere about `depoliticising' the Irish language, rights-based legislation is now the only way to effectively and sustainably do so.

"This cannot be kicked down the line; any resumption of Stormont and power-sharing must be on the basis of rights and the fulfilment of previous agreements. We are not seeking any special privilege or concession but simply the right to lives our lives through Irish."

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