Irish language may become ‘de facto’ election issue, activists warn

Language groups call on British government to ‘immediately move’ legislation

A failure by the British government to introduce Irish language legislation before Christmas raises the risk of it becoming an issue in next year's Stormont election, according to a leading Irish language campaigner.

Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, spokesman for the An Dream Dearg campaign for an Irish language act, was commenting after 50 Irish language and community organisations signed an open letter calling on Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis to "immediately move" Irish language legislation at Westminster.

“The British government gave a very clear, unambiguous, and unconditional commitment in June of this year that if Stormont could not or would not progress Irish language legislation by the end of September that they would intervene and implement the legislation at Westminster in October,” Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said.

“The legislation has not been moved, nor does it appear in [the Westminster] schedule for the coming week or the week after.

“We are almost into December, approaching the Christmas recess, and there is a very clear and impending danger that if this rolls on into the New Year and into an election [campaign], it almost de facto becomes an election issue.

“We’ve been there before. We have had this as an election issue and as a bone of contention between parties for far too long. This was a cornerstone component of the New Decade, New Approach agreement.”

Square one

Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said the New Decade, New Approach agreement was originally intended to be implemented within 100 days.

“Six hundred days have now passed,” he said.

“We are very much back at square one here. We have the DUP continuing to veto and frustrate progress, we have the British government making an agreement - like the agreement they made in 2006 at St Andrews - and we have no resolution. We have no implementation and the Irish language community are left out in the cold once more asking the question: ‘Where are our rights?’.”

Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said “I don’t know anyone who wants this issue become another hot election issue. It would serve everyone to have it taken off the table and the only to do that is by bringing in legislation and implementing that legislation.”

Representatives of the groups that signed the open letter to Mr Lewis gathered at Belfast’s Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on Tuesday to highlight their concerns.

The signatories said in the letter that any further delay in progressing language rights would be “deeply concerning and unjustified.”

“It is an entirely reasonable position for communities and stakeholders to expect the government to keep to their word and deliver on commitments made,” they wrote.

“You made a promise, and we expect you to honour it.”

The letter was signed by the following groups:

An Droichead Teo., Aonach Mhacha, Conradh na Gaeilge Boirche Iochtar, Cairde Teo., Cairde Turas, Cairde Uí Néil, Ciste Infheistíochta na Gaeilge, Coiste Forbartha Charn Tóchair, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, Comhaltas Uladh, Conradh na Gaeilge, Craobh an Iúir, Gaelaras Mhic Ardgháil, Craobh na Lorgan, Craobh Ard Eoin, Croí Éanna, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Cumann Chluain Árd, Cumann Cultúrtha Mhic Reachtain, Cumann Gaelach Leath Chathail, Cumann Gaelach QUB, Cumann Gaelach UU, Cumann Óige na bhFál, Cumann Óige Uachtar Chluanaí, Cumann Óige Uí Dochartaigh, Cumann Rothaíochta Loch Lao, An Dream Dearg, Foram na nÓg, Forbairt Feirste, Gael Linn, Gael na Glinntí, Gaelchursaí, Gaelphobal Ard Mhacha Theas, Glór an Ghleanna, Glór Mhachaire Fíolta, Glór na Móna, Glór na nGael, Glór na Speiríní, Glór Uachtar Tíre, Ionad na Fuiseoige, Ionad Uíbh Eachach, Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, CLG Laochra Loch Lao, Misneach, Obair, Oireachtas na Gaeilge, Pobal ar a'n Iúl, Raidió Fáilte, Seacht , Teach Mhamó, Turas, Tús Nua.