Irish language legislation receives royal assent to become law

Legislation includes commitment to repeal Penal Law-era legislation

Legislation negotiated by the Irish and British governments two years ago has received Royal Assent and will officially become law, giving official status to the Irish language for the first time in Northern Ireland.

The British government gave a commitment in 2021 that if Stormont could not or would not progress the legislation that it would intervene and implement the legislation at Westminster.

The Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill passed through the House of Lords and House of Commons in October and has now become law after it received royal assent from King Charles on Tuesday.

The legislation includes a commitment to establish the office of an Irish language commissioner and an Ulster Scots commissioner, to provide official recognition of the status of the Irish language and to repeal the Penal Law-era Administration of Justice (Language) Act 1737 which forbade the use of Irish in the courts.


The secretary of state for Northern Ireland has broad powers under the legislation to direct or take decisions relating to the appointment of commissioners in the absence of a functioning powersharing executive at Stormont.

Paula Melvin, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, welcomed the move as “historic” and called for the new law to be “fully enacted and implemented in practice”.

“This bill, however, is not our final destination,” said Ms Melvin. “But let’s be clear, we now immediately enter the implementation phase of this legislation. Painful experience with the British Government has taught us to take nothing for granted.”

Thousands of protesters marched through Belfast in May calling for the introduction of the legislation.

Conchúr Ó Muadaigh, who spoke at the Belfast rally and is advocacy manager with Conradh na Gaeilge, said “From today on, the Irish language will exist in law for the first time in a state which historically discriminated against the language and marginalised it’s community of speakers.

“The significance of this should not be lost on anyone. However, having legislation is one thing. The implementation of that legislation is another.”

He said the appointment of an Irish Language Commissioner is “the first step” in that process and added that it will be viewed as a litmus test for the British government.

“The Irish language community will wait in earnest to see how this legislation will bring the legitimate, long overdue change they require to facilitate them living their lives through Irish,” he added.

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Éanna Ó Caollaí

Iriseoir agus Eagarthóir Gaeilge An Irish Times. Éanna Ó Caollaí is The Irish Times' Irish Language Editor, editor of The Irish Times Student Hub, and Education Supplements editor.