Northern Ireland news

Stormont Irish language proposals 'fall short'

Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge met Secretary of State Julian Smith at Hillsborough Castle last weekend. Picture by Justin Kernoghan
Michael McHugh, PA

Irish language activists have said proposals contained in the British and Dublin governments' draft document to restore Stormont powersharing fall short of what was envisaged in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

Advocacy organisation Conradh na Gaeilge has been pressing for a separate stand-alone Irish language act.

Under the proposals, a special commissioner will work within parameters set by Stormont's first and deputy first ministers, and concerns remain among some speakers about a DUP veto.

Conradh na Gaeilge president Dr Niall Comer said: "This legislation is undoubtedly an historic advancement for our community, and for those who wish to use the language, by providing historic official status, legal protection and an Irish language commissioner for the first time in the history of the state.

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"This has only come about as the result of a tireless, inspirational and bottom up campaign which has transformed how people here now view the language and ultimately how the state will interact with our community and shared language moving forward."

The organisation's Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin said the proposals fall far short of the commitments made in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, which promised an Irish language act based on the Welsh legislation, and does not contain provisions that are made for language in Wales or in the south, as was explicitly committed to by the British and Irish governments.

"The complete omission of visibility and signage is hugely frustrating and will undoubtedly be a source of tension and will expose major fault-lines on contested cases of signage in the coming period."

The Orange Order also voiced "very serious concerns" about the Irish language proposals.

In a statement, the organisation claimed the document had been released with a "purposely narrow window for meaningful consideration".

"It is clearly far-reaching in its provision for the Irish language and its subsequent future role in the political and civic life of Northern Ireland," the statement reads.

"In contrast to the detailed list of measures to promote the Irish language, references to Ulster Scots/Ulster-British culture are ambiguous - lacking meaningful detail or delivery mechanisms.

"As British citizens living in the United Kingdom, we have a complex and multi-layered identity which in many areas is wider than simply 'Ulster Scots'.

"We remain unconvinced that the cultural traditions and identity of the Orange family will be meaningfully promoted or safeguarded by these proposals."

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