Editorial: No time for delay in appointing Irish language commissioner

Six months after Westminster passed legislation giving official recognition to the Irish language, the Secretary of State has the opportunity to appoint an Irish language commissioner. It is time for him to implement the legislation and make an immediate appointment.

The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act makes provision for an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, the appointment of commissioners for Irish and Ulster Scots and the repeal of a 1737 law which requires all court proceedings to be in English.

Having waited 286 years for the repeal of discriminatory legislation, there is no obvious reason why the Secretary of State might wish to extend that wait even longer. Not only would he be delaying the practical implementation of the law, he would be adding to the symbolism of cultural dominance which this new legislation aims to overturn.

While the application of such legislation will inevitably take time to fully implement, any delay by the Secretary of State cannot be defended.

Although the First and Deputy First Ministers would normally appoint the new commissioners for Irish and Ulster Scots, Mr Heaton-Harris has the power to make the appointments in Stormont’s absence.

This week he amended the content of the school curriculum, so there is no reason why he cannot also intervene in appointing the new commissioners. The identity and language legislation was passed in Westminster, so it can be implemented by Westminster.

The campaign for Irish language equality has been long and dignified. One of its main aims was the appointment of a commissioner to protect and enhance the development of the language.

If parliament sees fit to legislate for the development of the Irish language, it is hardly democratic, or in any way reasonable, for an MP to delay the implementation of the will of parliament.

Mr Heaton-Harris has yet to confirm that he will make the appointment.

As the Irish phrase has it, ní tráth moille é – this is no time for delay. The Secretary of State might like to learn that phrase – not just its words, but the spirit behind it.

He must then implement the legislation in full and he can best begin that process by the immediate appointment of an Irish language commissioner.