Northern Ireland news

British government under pressure to honour Irish language legislation commitment

A group of cross-party MPs and representatives from Conradh na Gaeilge call for Westminster's immediate delivery of Irish language legislation

THE BRITISH government is coming under increased pressure to bring forward Irish language legislation in line with commitments previously given by the secretary of state.

Brandon Lewis said in June that if the Stormont executive had not progressed its package of cultural legislation by the end of last month, then the British government would introduce it "in October 2021".

But with the deadline for bringing forward the appropriate bill just days away, Mr Lewis has yet to indicate his intention to honour June's commitment, which was made amid a crisis over Sinn Féin's support for nominating Paul Given as first minister.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said yesterday that she expected the Irish language legislation to be "tabled over the course of the next week or so".

She said last year's New Decade New Approach had included a pledge on the language and cultural package.

"But unfortunately the DUP reneged on that commitment and we had to find a solution and a way around the DUP, and that was delivered upon by the British government," she said.

"So we expect to see that legislation tabled over the course of the next week or so as well."

The Sinn Féin deputy leader's remarks came as a group of cross-party MPs yesterday called on Westminster to deliver Irish language legislation without delay.

SDLP and Alliance MPs were joined by counterparts from Plaid Cymru and the SNP, alongside shadow secretary of state Louise Haigh and representatives from Irish language advocacy group Conradh na Gaeilge.

Conradh na Gaeilge president Dr Niall Comer said the cross-party support represented an "overwhelming majority in the House of Commons" and that Irish language legislation was also backed by the Stormont assembly.

He said the British government had a "few short days" to fulfil the commitment given by Mr Lewis in June.

The Conradh na Gaeilge president said it had been 15 years since the British government initially promised to introduce an Irish language act.

"Now they find themselves, alongside the Irish government, as co-guarantor of a new agreement, recommitting them to legislation that will protect and enhance the Irish language," he said.

"The legislation will create a new Irish language commissioner, a suite of 'best-practice standards' for public bodies, and will repeal a 1737 penal law which has banned Irish from courts for centuries."

Mr Comer said the legislation had been agreed and published and was "ready to go". There is no further legitimate or reasonable excuse for delay. The issue of Irish language rights remains a continuous immediate litmus test for all.”

At Westminster yesterday, Mr Lewis said it was still possible for Stormont to legislate for the cultural bill before the end of its mandate but said the British government would intervene if the executive failed to bring it forward.

An Northern Ireland Office spokesperson said it was "disappointing" that the cultural legislation had not been progressed by the executive, as agreed in New Decade, New Approach.

"In the absence of progress on this matter, the UK government is taking the necessary steps to introduce legislation through parliament," the spokesperson said.

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