Northern Ireland

Thousands turn out for Irish language rally in Belfast

 Thousands gathered in Belfast city centre to protest over the lack of Irish language legislation
 Thousands gathered in Belfast city centre to protest over the lack of Irish language legislation

AN estimated 17,000 people took part in a protest march to demand Irish language legislation on Saturday in Belfast city centre.

The huge event was organised by campaign group An Dream Dearg.

Organisers estimate that around 17,000 people from across Ireland took part in the protest parade from Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road to city hall.

Some of those taking part, which included former Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, carried messages in support of the Irish language and chanted as they made their way to the city centre.

Amond the speakers who addressed the crowd, in Irish and English, was five-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann, who has been at the centre of a high-profile campaign to raise attention about organ donation.

Planned legislation agreed as part of the 2020 New Decade, New Approach deal included a promise to "provide official recognition" of the status of both the Irish language and Ulster Scots.

Hover, to date there has been no movement and Saturday's protest was part of a protest to demand action on that legislation.

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, from An Dream Dearg, said the protest was "the biggest Irish language demonstration of a generation".

"An Dream Dearg has built a grassroots movement that has pushed the Irish language from the margins to the very centre of political and civic discourse both here and internationally, a movement that has spoken truth to power and ensured our community would no longer be treated as second class citizens, marginalised or excluded, he said.

" Those days are gone for good.

"The Irish Language Act is long, long overdue. Our community cannot and must not be made to wait any longer for the same language rights enjoyed by citizens across these islands."

Campaigner Cliondhna Ni Mhianain spoke about Gaelcholaiste Dhoire, which opened in 2015 with 13 students.

"Now almost 300 students have come through our doors, and as a member of the first year group, I am now finishing my journey," she said.

"None of that would have been possible without a community campaign for equality and rights, without Irish speakers demanding better, demanding an Irish Language Act."

A similar protest march in 2017 also attracted a large crowd.

Councillor Mal O'Hara, deputy leader of the Green Party, tweeted from the protest that it was "great to see thousands of activists descend on City Hall calling for the honouring of agreements made years ago".

He said: "They shouldn't have to. We have a duty to promote and protect indigenous and minority languages" as he urged Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to "get it done".