Editorial: Irish language act is no threat to anyone

It is somewhat ironic that Westminster is required to deliver a key element of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement because not all the parties which signed up to it can now agree to implement it.

NDNA was the political foundation on which Stormont’s restoration was built just two years ago. However, the DUP’s opposition to an Irish language act means that Westminster is now obliged to over-ride a devolved administration in Belfast, by introducing legislation from London.

While direct British intervention is welcome in this case, it is a poor reflection on Stormont’s ability to adhere to the basic democratic decision-making process of reasoned and informed debate.

Had London not decided to intervene, the recent collapse of the Stormont Executive would presumably have meant that the legislation would have been delayed indefinitely.

The need for supervisory intercession suggests an unfortunate level of political immaturity at Stormont and raises doubt about unionism’s commitment to the NDNA agreement.

The new legislation, which also makes provision for Ulster Scots, does not contain anything which will affect the status of the English language. It does not therefore represent a threat to anyone.

Indeed, it will go further and lift a 300 year old threat to cultural expression, which dates from the penal days.

The 1737 Administration of Justice Act forbids the use of Irish in the courts, as part of a process of punitive legislation, designed to achieve the sole use of the English language.

It is difficult to understand why anyone would wish to retain such a law today in what is an increasingly multicultural society.

It is unfortunate that the new legislation is likely to be introduced during the forthcoming Stormont election period. It is not an issue for political wrangling or sectarian division.

Since Irish was first outlawed in Ireland in 1367, an Irish language act is merely putting to right what has been a prolonged historical wrong, not just to nationalists, but to all those who spoke and treasured the language.

It has been a long road to this point and the past twenty years have been particularly challenging. However, like Maurice O’Sullivan’s memoirs in Fiche Bliain Ag Fás (Twenty Years A-growing) those years represent triumph over adversity in very difficult circumstances.

It is just sad that we needed Britain to do it for us.