Northern Ireland

Attempts to bring Irish language strategy before the Executive blocked 26 times

An Irish language protest at Stormont. Picture Mark Marlow.
An Irish language protest at Stormont. Picture Mark Marlow. An Irish language protest at Stormont. Picture Mark Marlow.

Attempts to bring an Irish language strategy before the Stormont Executive has been blocked 26 times in less than a year.

The Executive has deliberately and unlawfully frustrated attempts to advance the strategy, the High Court heard yesterday.

A lawyer for campaign group Conradh na Gaeilge argued that the administration is continuing to ignore a judicial finding that it is in breach of a legal duty to adopt the blueprint.

The court was told that Sinn Féin Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey has been blocked in 26 attempts to table the strategy for discussion among cabinet colleagues.

Both parties in the Executive Office, Sinn Féin and the DUP, must agree to the agenda for the five-party Executive meeting.

Conradh na Gaeilge (CnG) is now seeking a court order compelling the Executive to take action.

The group is involved a long-running legal battle over pledges to progress an initiative for the Irish language which date back to the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

In 2017 the High Court backed its case that the ongoing failure contravenes the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

At that stage a judge granted a declaration that the Executive was in breach of its legal duty.

New strategies on Irish language and Ulster-Scots were then promised in the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) deal which led to the restoration of power-sharing in January 2020.

But amid an alleged failure to take the necessary steps, Conradh na Gaeilge returned to court in a bid to secure movement.

The court heard Ms Hargey circulated a paper on the Irish language strategy last November, and also repeatedly tried to have the issue discussed at Executive meetings in the following months.

"Some 26 occasions in total, and on no occasion did it make its way properly onto the agenda," the CnG's barrister, Karen Quinlivan QC said.

Ms Quinlivan added: "What we have at the moment is an Executive Committee which has demonstrated disregard for statute, but also disregard for a judgment of the High Court.

"It's accepted there is opposition ... but that's why parliament made it an obligation, it recognised there was controversy."

Counsel representing the Executive said that work on a strategy was now advancing, with two separate advisory panels appointed by Ms Hargey to provide recommendations.

Judgment was reserved.

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, of Conradh na Gaeilge, said outside court: "Fifteen years on since the promise of an Irish language strategy was written into law, the Executive has now missed every new deadline set out in NDNA. With the Department for Communities all but confirming in court any strategy would not be ready in this mandate, the familiar pattern of the denial and obstruction of language rights continues. This is very much a case of New Decade Same old approach."