Northern Ireland news

Irish-speaking areas in north set for official status for first time

Sara Nic Conmara, Pádraigh Ó Tiarnaigh, Foras na Gaeilge chief executive Seán Ó Coinn, gaeltacht minister Joe McHugh, Joe O'Doherty, Brian Ó Gaibhín and Eoghan Mac Cormaic at the 'Irish language networks' launch at Croke Park. Picture by Seán Ó Mainnín
Brendan Hughes

IRISH-speaking areas in the north look set to be officially recognised for the first time.

Belfast and Carntogher in Co Derry are among five areas across Ireland that have been chosen by a cross-border body to apply for formal status as 'Irish language network' communities.

It will be the first time that Irish-speaking communities outside of the south's Gaeltacht areas will have official recognition.

But while the Dublin government has set aside funding in the south, no money has been agreed north of the border due to Stormont's collapse.

The news comes as Sinn Féin and the DUP continue to clash over calls for an Irish language act, the main sticking point in latest failed talks to restore power-sharing.

DUP leader Arlene Foster insisted her party was "not contemplating" an act, despite a leaked draft agreement suggesting otherwise.

Five communities – Belfast, Carntogher, Loughrea in Co Galway, Clondalkin in Co Dublin and Ennis in Co Clare ­– have been selected to go forward for 'Irish language network' status.

The announcement was made yesterday at Croke Park by Foras na Gaeilge (FnaG), a cross-border public body set up following the Good Friday Agreement to promote the Irish language.

Each area has been given £13,000 or €15,000 to devise a five to seven-year 'Irish language plan' for their communities.

In Belfast, the plans would focus on the 'Gaeltacht quarter' of west Belfast and are being taken forward by various groups in the area.

In the south, the Republic's gaeltacht minister will oversee the proposals.

FnaG will formally award 'Irish language network' status when the language plans have been approved.

Gearóid Trimble, the body's community and business programme manager, said the five communities will have two years to "develop comprehensive language plans that will be submitted to Foras na Gaeilge and that should be fully costed".

He added: "In the south the Irish government has ring-fenced through legislation funding for such groups that succeed, but in the north there has been no decision as to that.

"With the executive in the way it is, Foras na Gaeilge has not been able to discuss any further with the executive."

Mr Trimble said FnaG could consider providing the funding itself, but this would not be possible under its current budget constraints.

Meanwhile, a Sinn Féin MLA yesterday condemned vandalism to an Irish language road sign outside Caledon in Co Tyrone.

Colm Gildernew said paint sprayed over Irish text on a 'Welcome to Mid Ulster' sign showed a "complete disregard and lack of respect for the Irish identity".

"Occurrences like this bring into focus the need for protection of Irish language rights through Acht na Gaeilge," he added.

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