Northern Ireland

Campaigners cautious as British government poised to table long-awaited Irish language legislation this week

Thousands marched in Belfast on Saturday in support of Irish language legislation. Picture by Mark Marlow 
Thousands marched in Belfast on Saturday in support of Irish language legislation. Picture by Mark Marlow 

CAMPAIGNERS have given a cautious welcome to the British government's plans to this week table legislation for the cultural package that includes new measures for promoting and safeguarding the Irish language.

The full contents of Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill will be made public for the first time at Westminster on Wednesday.

The long-awaited bill comes after thousands marched in Belfast on Saturday in support of the Irish language legislation first promised by the British government a decade-and-a-half ago.

The package is expected to include plans for an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to promote respect for diversity, as well as an Irish language commissioner and a commissioner to develop language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots tradition.

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh of An Dream Dearg said he believed an Irish language act was coming but that campaigners "had been here before ".

"Unless resolute action is taken to deliver rights for our community we have no confidence in the British government ability to their public commitment," he said.

"We don't trust Boris, we can't trust Boris – until this legislation is rubber stamped, fully functioning and an Irish language commissioner appointed and delivering upon the core aspects of the act, we will continue to push ahead with our campaign for equality and language rights."

Sinn Féin's Pat Sheehan was similarly cautious but stressed the desire for immediate progress.

“Acht Gaeilge must be delivered now - there must be no more delays, broken promises and time wasting," he said.

“The British government should live up to its commitments and legislate for an Irish language act to enshrine the rights of Irish speakers into law.”

Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said the package was a "core element of the New Decade New Approach" agreement that saw the restoration of the institutions in January 2020.

"I would much prefer that the assembly would legislate for it but too much time has been given waiting for the DUP to allow this package to proceed," the North Down MP said.

"The rights of language users need to be respected – any further delay risks the language issue being reopened and further complicating the restoration of the institutions."

SDLP MP Claire Hanna said people had waited a long time for the legislation.

"The Northern Ireland Assembly has never delivered a single piece of equality legislation, and the DUP should realise that constantly vetoing progress isn’t the genius plan they think it is," she said.

"We hope there will no last minute strokes pulled by the UK government but we won’t know until we see the legislation."