Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge has strongly criticised the failure by the British government to introduce Irish language legislation in Northern Ireland.
The New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement negotiated in January 2020 included commitments to introduce measures protecting the Irish language and Ulster-Scots.
Originally due to be introduced within 100 days of the NDNA agreement, the legislation has been subject to several delays amid unionist opposition to the act. Northern Ireland secretary Brandon Lewis was expected to introduce the legislation by the end of the assembly mandate, which has now ended.
However, it has emerged that in a letter dated March 22nd, Northern Ireland Office (NIO) Minister Conor Burns informed the chair of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Simon Hoare, that the British government would not introduce the legislation until after the Stormont elections in May "due to pressures on the parliamentary timetable".
Citing differences between the parties on what the language commissioners promised under the act should be called, Mr Lewis confirmed the decision to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Monday, saying “It does need careful preparation and planning for introduction.”
Conradh na Gaeilge issued a strongly-worded statement in response condemning the move and said that the British government continues “to delay and deny Irish language rights”.
It said it was “bitterly disappointed but not surprised” at the move and added that the British government “once again breaks clear promises on language rights”.
Blaming “a lack of political will, rather than a lack of time” for the ongoing delay it said the British “had adequate time and opportunities” to bring forward the legislation as promised.
Conradh na Gaeilge president Paula Melvin said: "Since meeting with Brandon Lewis last summer we have had total radio silence from both NIO ministers."
That the NIO “could not update our community directly” about the decision “adds insult to injury,” she said.
“If you start counting at the St Andrew’s Agreement, they have had the best part of 16 years to do this. At every juncture they have decided not to prioritise this legislation, or to kick it further down the line to suit their own political agenda,” she said.
Conradh na Gaeilge said it warned “time and time again” that the matter would become an election issue if not resolved ahead of the pre-election period.
“They decided not to act on that. Our community will continue to organise and ensure this issue remains to the fore during the election and throughout the following negotiations to form a new Executive,” she said.