Northern Ireland

Brandon Lewis urged to deliver on Irish language legislation as British government refuses to give commitments on Westminster timeframe

More than 50 Irish language advocacy groups came together yesterday to call on Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to 'immediately move Irish language legislation at Westminster'. Picture by Mal McCann
More than 50 Irish language advocacy groups came together yesterday to call on Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to 'immediately move Irish language legislation at Westminster'. Picture by Mal McCann More than 50 Irish language advocacy groups came together yesterday to call on Secretary of State Brandon Lewis to 'immediately move Irish language legislation at Westminster'. Picture by Mal McCann

THE BRITISH government has refused to give a commitment on when Westminster will legislate on the Stormont cultural package that includes provisions for the Irish language.

Despite giving assurances last month that Westminster would legislate on the New Decade New Approach pledge "as soon as parliamentary time allows", The Irish News understands that no time has been allocated for introducing the cultural package in the House of Commons either this week or next, leaving little over a fortnight left before MPs break for Christmas recess.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis said in June that the necessary legislation would be delivered in October.

Today's paper carries a full-page advert with a letter from 50 Irish language advocacy groups, calling on the secretary of state to "immediately move this legislation at Westminster without any further delay".

"Rights delayed are rights denied," the letter says.

As the same groups gathered in west Belfast yesterday to highlight their campaign, the British government was refusing to commit to any timeframe and said it had nothing further to add to last month's statement.

Among those present at the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road was Linda Ervine, who represents east Belfast-based Irish language group Turas.

Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh of campaign group An Dream Dearg said the letter sent a "very clear message" to Mr 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."

In the letter to Mr Lewis, the groups point out that more than 20 years ago in the Good Friday Agreement and in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, a commitment was made to take action to promote and protect the Irish language.

"All deadlines to date have passed, and still we wait. Community confidence is now incredibly low," it states.

"The days of Irish speakers being treated as second class citizens here are now over."

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said the failure to provide a clear legislative timetable for the cultural package was "obviously concerning, particularly given this government’s pattern of reneging on its obligations".

He said his party was prepared to table amendments at Westminster "rather than relying on Boris Johnson’s cabinet".

"This matter needs to be resolved and commitments in New Decade New Approach need to be upheld," he said.

Sinn Féin MLA Aisling Reilly called on Mr Lewis to "live up to his commitment".

“Irish Language legislation is crucial to delivering genuine recognition to the equal rights and status of an ever-growing community of Gaeilgeoirí across our island," she said.

“Acht Gaeilge is long overdue – there can be no more delays and the British government should get on with implementing its commitments.”