Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has been urged to “immediately move” Irish language legislation at Westminster.
Representatives of more than 50 Irish language groups gathered at the Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich Irish language centre in west Belfast today to officially launch an open letter they are sending to Mr Lewis.
Those in attendance included Linda Ervine representing Turas based across the city in east Belfast.
The call comes after the British government pledged to press ahead with legislating for Irish language protections at Westminster after failed attempts at Stormont, with Mr Lewis saying the move would come at some point in October.
The government previously faced calls from the DUP not to press ahead with the legislation while unionist concerns about Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol remain unaddressed.
The Stormont parties were unable to agree to introduce the legislation in the Assembly.
Last month, Sinn Féin vice president Michelle O’Neill said she had expected Irish language legislation to be introduced into parliament “within days”.
Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, spokesperson for the An Dream Dearg campaign for an Irish Language Act, said they had gathered to send a “very clear message” to Brandon Lewis.
“The secretary of state gave a very clear and unambiguous commitment in June of this year that if Stormont failed to implement Irish language legislation by September, the British government would do so at Westminster by October,” he told the PA news agency.
“We are now in the middle of November and to date no Irish language legislation has been moved at Westminster.
“We’re here to send a very clear message to the secretary of state that we’ve been frustrated for so so long, the groups have come together to say that our rights must be now implemented in law and that we can accept no further delay in the implementation of this legislation.”
In the letter to Mr Lewis, the groups point out that over 20 years ago in the Good Friday Agreement, and in the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement, a commitment was made to take action to promote and protect the Irish language.
Language legislation was also promised in the New Decade New Approach deal in January 2020.
The letter adds: “All deadlines to date have passed, and still we wait. Community confidence is now incredibly low.
“The days of Irish speakers being treated as second class citizens here are now over.
“Today, we request an urgent meeting with you, as secretary of state, regarding your plans to implement Irish language legislation.
“Above all else, we call on the British government to immediately move this legislation at Westminster without any further delay.
“Rights delayed are rights denied.”