Northern Ireland news

Thousands to march in largest Irish language rally 'in a generation'

 Irish language activists make a 70ft x 70ft flag which will be placed on Belfast's Black Mountain today ahead of a march calling for language legislation. Picture by Mal McCann

THOUSANDS of Irish language activists are to take to the streets of Belfast today for what is expected to be the biggest language rally "in a generation".

The march, organised by An Dream Dearg, has been months in the planning.

Around 25 buses carrying activists from across Ireland will travel to the city to protest against the lack of movement on language legislation.

An Irish language strategy, along with a commitment to an Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture strategy, was agreed as part of the New Decade, New Approach deal in January 2020.

However, no legislation was ever introduced.

A further commitment to language legislation was announced in the Queen's Speech earlier this month.

Conchur Ó Muadaigh from Conradh na Gaeilge said he is expecting thousands of people to take part in the march.

"This will be the biggest Irish language march in a generation," he said.

He added: "For too long our rights have been denied. Thousands of people will be marching to send a clear message.

"It's 2022 - now is the time for language rights."

The march will begin at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road in the west of the city at 1pm.

Marchers will walk to Belfast City Hall where activists will make speeches.

"The last march we had was May 20, 2017," Mr Ó Muadaigh said.

"We have had some lip-service towards the New Decade New Approach commitments in recent weeks.

"We have had no action, nothing concrete in terms of dates, in terms of any legislation coming through.

"We're bringing this to the streets.

"We're bringing Irish language activists from all over the country to Belfast to show our support for the legislation but also to demonstrate our anger with the DUP and British government.

"They have been holding back progress on this matter for decades."

Mr Ó Muadaigh said the continued lack of an executive more than a fortnight after the assembly elections meant that language rights cannot be progressed.

"Even when we did have an executive nothing progressed as we envisaged," he said.

"There was no Irish language strategy, there was no Irish language legislation.

"This legislation needs to have a practical effect for those who are Irish speakers and who want to use services.

"If there is no executive, if there is a blockage, we would like to see the Secretary of State appoint a commissioner who would oversee best practice standards."

However, Mr Ó Muadaigh said there is "no detail" on what powers the Secretary of State has to ensure language commitments are followed by the executive.

"We have no confidence in the British government's ability to deliver on rights," he said.

"The most recent soundbites from Boris Johnson and Brandon Lewis - we have no indication that they are going to move on Irish language legislation."

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