Northern Ireland news

Irish language legislation passage through House of Lords welcomed

Sinn Féin MLA Aisling Reilly. Picture by Mal McCann
John Manley

IRISH language campaigners and nationalist politicians have welcomed the latest milestone in the Stormont cultural package's passage through Westminster.

The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill cleared the House of Lords on Wednesday after its third reading.

The bill, which will give the Irish language official status, will return to the House of Commons in the autumn for further readings and the committee stage.

The long-awaited legislation, which also includes measures to promote Ulster Scots and the Ulster-British tradition, was tabled by the British government earlier this year.

It was originally outlined in 2020's New Decade, New Approach agreement that saw the restoration of the Stormont institutions after a three-year hiatus.

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, advocacy manager with Conradh na Gaeilge, said he welcomed progress in the bill's legislative journey.

However, he said the group was disappointed that a number of amendments it proposed had not been incorporated into the legislation.

"We have sought a meeting with the new secretary of state to raise our concerns," Mr Ó Muadaigh said.

"We will engage with all political parties to ensure its introduction to the House of Commons soon after the summer recess, however, until we see this bill fully enacted and indeed implemented in practice, we will continue to push ahead with the campaign for language rights."

Sinn Féin MLA Aisling Reilly said the bill had "cleared another hurdle".

“The growing and thriving Irish language community has run a vibrant campaign for recognition of basic language rights - almost 20,000 people were on the streets of Belfast just weeks ago demanding the British government implement its commitments," she said.

“It’s important we see Acht delivered to give official recognition of the Irish language in this state, appoint an comisinéir teanga, repeal draconian laws preventing the use of Irish in our courts and ensure that people can access public services through Irish."

SDLP Irish language spokesperson Patsy McGlone said this week's progress was an "important step on securing long overdue language rights" and he paid tribute to the work of campaigners.

"That we are getting ever closer to seeing these hard-won rights introduced is testament to the work of campaigners who have worked tirelessly to advance this cause in the face of significant opposition," he said.

"Agreement on language issues was finally reached as part of New Decade, New Approach and it’s deeply regrettable that these rights have to be legislated for at Westminster rather than here in the north.

"The Irish language is not a threat to anybody, it is enjoyed by people on this island from all walks of life and this legislation will allow the language to continue to thrive and grow for generations to come."

The Mid Ulster MLA also welcomed the protections for Ulster Scots and said he hoped "unionist politicians will respond to it in the same spirit of good faith".