Northern Ireland news

Appointment of language commissioners for Irish and Ulster-Scots moves closer

Steve Baker said the Government ‘remains committed to seeing the implementation of these New Decade, New Approach undertakings' (Gareth Fuller/PA)
Rebecca Black, PA

The appointment of language commissioners for Irish and Ulster-Scots has moved a step closer.

The creation of the posts were committed to in the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act which was passed last year.

The Act also includes an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression “to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity”.

On Tuesday, Northern Ireland minister Steve Baker announced commencement regulations for the commissioners and office had been made.

The regulations have also brought into force powers of direction for Secretary of State Chris Heaton-Harris in relation to the 2022 Act in the continuing absence of a functioning Assembly and Executive at Stormont.

In a written statement, Mr Baker said: “In the Government’s view, the Act provides a framework for all of Northern Ireland’s identities, languages and cultures to be accommodated, protected and respected.

“This includes those who define themselves as ‘other’ and those who form Northern Ireland’s ethnic and newcomer communities, consistent with the vision set out in New Decade, New Approach.

“For these reasons, the Government remains committed to seeing the implementation of these New Decade, New Approach undertakings and will continue to work closely with Northern Ireland departments on these matters.”

It is understood the appointment process for the commissioners is to be taken forward by the Executive Office in the coming weeks.

Conchur O Muadaigh of the Irish language advocacy group Conradh na Gaeilge described “another historic staging post on this long-running journey towards language rights”.

“Whilst the new Irish language legislation has been on the statute books for over six months, many within our community have been waiting and advocating for language rights here for decades,” he said.

“Now we enter into the first phase of implementation and urge the Executive Office, and the NIO, to move with haste to announce the appointment process for an Irish language commissioner.

“Without local political approval, and given the commencement of new powers, we expect the Secretary of State to immediately ratify the successful applicant emerging from the process.

“Taking all of that into account, we should have our very first Irish language commissioner in post within a few months, which will be another historic staging post for our community on this long-running journey towards language rights.

“With the new commissioner in post, the work to designate language standards to all of our public authorities will begin.”

He added: “We also eagerly await the commencement of other more standalone elements of the new Act, namely the repeal of the 1737 Justice Ireland Act which continues to ban Irish from our courts.”

Northern Ireland news