Westminster should bring in Irish language law in ‘next week or so’ – O’Neill

Deal that restored powersharing contained pledge to legislate if Stormont failed to

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Michelle O’Neill. Photograph: Kelvin Boyes/Press Eye/PA Wire

 

The North’s Deputy First Minister has said she expects the UK government to introduce Irish language legislation “over the course of the next week or so”.

Michelle O’Neill was speaking to reporters on Tuesday following an address to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) conference in Belfast.

In June the UK government pledged to introduce a package of cultural legislation, including Irish language provisions, at Westminster in October if the Northern Executive failed to progress the legislation by the end of September.

The legislation was a commitment made in New Decade, New Approach – the deal that restored the North’s powersharing institutions in January 2020 – “so therefore it must be delivered upon”, Ms O’Neill said.

Speaking in the House of Commons on Tuesday during a debate on a Bill aimed at strengthening the stability of the North’s powersharing institutions, the UK’s Northern secretary, Brandon Lewis, said it was still “technically possible” for the Executive to start a procedure that would allow the package to be delivered before the end of its mandate.

However, he added that the UK government was “very clear that, if it becomes clear that the Executive are unable to do that, or are not moving it forward, we will bring forward legislation to deliver the cultural package as set out in [the deal].”

Unionist concerns

The DUP has previously warned the UK government not to press ahead with legislating for the Irish language without addressing unionist concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol.

Supporters and members of Conradh na Gaeilge, which is campaigining for the introduction of the legislation, gathered outside Westminster on Tuesday to press the UK government to deliver on their commitment before the end of the month.

Dr Niall Corner, the president of Conradh na Gaeilge and a lecturer in Irish at Ulster University, said the legislation was “vital” for future generations of Irish speakers.

“In 2006 an Irish Language Act was promised as part of the St Andrews Agreement and we’ve been waiting since then for this.

“Earlier this year, the secretary of state, Brandon Lewis, stated that if the Stormont government was not able to bring through the Irish language legislation, that this would be brought through Westminster, and if this hadn’t been done by the end of September, it would be brought through a month later.

“This is the reason we’re here now – to make sure that the [UK] government honours its commitments.”