Deirdre Hargey: Work on an Irish language strategy has already begun
A SINN Féin minister has begun work on an Irish language strategy, just a week after a deal to progress language rights was struck between her party and the DUP.
In the clearest indication yet that Irish will eventually be given formal support and recognition, communities minister Deirdre Hargey said initial work has started on the development of an Irish language strategy and an Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture strategy.
Ms Hargey has already set up expert advisory panels to work on the strategies - agreed as part of last year's New Decade New Approach deal.
The names of those working on the panels will be published shortly, a departmental spokesman said.
"In line with the commitment in New Decade New Approach citizen and community engagement will be key aspects of the strategy development," he said.
The move comes after years of lobbying from Irish language campaigners.
The minister will also set up two further groups - a co-design group to advise on the development and content of the draft strategies and action plans and a cross-departmental group to discuss and agree the content of the action plans.
Six years ago, a draft Irish language strategy by Ms Hargey's party colleague, then culture minister Carál Ní Chuilín, was not adopted by the Executive.
Following a deal last week, the British government agreed to legislate for language provision by October if the assembly does not go ahead with any legislation in the meantime.
Rows over an Irish language strategy brought Stormont to the brink of collapse earlier this month.
Outgoing DUP leader Edwin Poots initially refused to commit to a language act before next year's assembly elections.
However, he agreed a deal on Irish language legislation in return for Sinn Féin support for Paul Givan as First Minister.
The ensuing party row saw Mr Poots deposed as leader after just 21 days.
Ms Hargey said she has advised the Executive that her department is going ahead with the language strategies.
"I am pleased that work is now underway on these new Irish Language and Ulster Scots Language, Heritage and Culture Strategies," she said.
"Wider consultation will take place towards ensuring that the strategies meet community need and my officials will engage with all other Departments.
"To help in this process I have established Expert Advisory Panels to bring together a wide range of academic and community experience in shaping the strategies, which will fulfil the commitments in the New Decade, New Approach agreement."
Earlier this month, Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge was granted leave by the High Court in Belfast to apply for a judicial review into the Executive's failure to implement a strategy for the language.
The legal challenge came more than four years after a landmark court ruling.
In 2017, a court ruled that the Executive had failed in its legal duty to adopt an Irish language strategy.