Northern Ireland news

'Historic' day as campaigners welcome introduction of Irish language legislation at Westminster

An Irish language rally in Belfast last Saturday saw around 17,000 people march in support of new legislation
Paul Ainsworth

LEGISLATION on Irish language for the north will be introduced at Westminster today in what campaigners have described as a "historic" move.

The new bill will create a new Irish language commissioner office as part of a raft of legislation promised in the 2020 New Decade New Approach deal.

The bill will also create a commissioner for culture "associated with the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition", and will repeal legislation dating from 1737 that bans the use of Irish in court proceedings.

The bill's tabling comes days after around 17,000 people marched through Belfast to show support for Irish language legislation, in what was the biggest demonstration of its kind in the city to date.

An Irish language act was initially agreed in the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement to restore devolution, and the failure to move on laws to protect and promote Irish in the north was among reasons put forward by Sinn Féin for collapsing Stormont in 2017.

Earlier this year, British minister Maria Caulfield said Westminster would have preferred the Executive to introduce the legislation, but said it would do so if Stormont did not.

Members of the Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge welcomed news of the new legislation finally being tabled.

The organisation's president Paula Melvin said: "The Irish language community has been fighting for these rights for decades and in that regard to see the Irish language be afforded official status here for the first time is indeed historic.

"We want to pay tribute to all of those activists and community pioneers who have been advocating for language rights down through the years. This day belongs to them. But let's be clear, this is only the beginning of the legislative journey for this bill. Painful experience with the British government has taught us to take nothing for granted.

"Until we see this bill fully enacted and indeed implemented in practice, we will continue to push ahead with the campaign.”

The group's Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, added: "On Saturday almost 20,000 attended the largest Irish language rally in our history. We told them then that we would win our campaign, and we are nearly there. We will have an Irish language act. That legislation will, however, fall short of the commitments given to us at St Andrew's, especially when tested against the Welsh model.

"It remains, however, an historic advancement in our campaign for language rights and we welcome it as a significant staging post on our journey for equality here."

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