Irish language 'hampered' in NI

Published Thursday, 16 January 2014
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Promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has been hampered due to attitudes in the Assembly and a lack of support for its use in some areas, the Council of Europe has said.

Irish language 'hampered' in NI
A Department of Education advert in Irish caused a stir at Stormont last year. (© Department of Education)

The Executive has been strongly criticised over how it promotes the Irish language in the report by the council, which is a human rights organisation with 47 member states.

Stormont failed to provide the council with information on the use of both Irish and Ulster-Scots, because the NI parties could not agree a submission.

The council's report said more should be done to promote Irish, including in courts and the Assembly.

It also warned that authorities could be in breach of a charter of rights because of delays over requests for bilingual signs.

Stormont's power-sharing coalition and other devolved administrations are required to submit information on minority languages to the Council of Europe.

Every three years, the council uses the information provided by various governments to compile a report on the state of minority languages, including Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and others.

Despite repeated requests from the UK government, the Northern Ireland Executive was unable to reach a consensus on its submission regarding Irish and Ulster-Scots.

As a result, the authors of the Council of Europe report state that their latest publication is "incomplete, lacking information about the situation in Northern Ireland".

They said this had "hampered the process of timely and effective application" of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages across the UK.

Culture Minister Carál Ní Chuilín, who is responsible for overall promotion of the language, said she would bring in new legislation during the current Assembly term.

The Sinn Féin representative said there is a "large body of support for an Irish Language Act" in Northern Ireland.

"As languages are now a devolved matter full legislation will require the agreement of the Executive and Assembly," she said.

"I hope that all supporters of the Irish language will work together to convince the Executive, the Assembly and all our people of the merits of supporting an Irish Language Act."

She said her Liofa campaign showed room for cross-community support.

It is extremely embarrassing that the Executive has not yet responded to the committee of experts who are charged with monitoring the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages across the UK.

Dominic Bradley, SDLP

The Committee of Experts on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages report also looked at the standing of Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish and Ulster Scots, which it said has improved but "still remains absent from public life".

Janet Muller, chief executive of POBAL, the Irish language advocacy organisation, which submitted evidence to the Committee of Experts, called for a target date for the introduction of the Irish Language Act.

She told UTV: "The major problem is with Westminster.

"Westminster has not fulfilled its responsibility to centrally direct and oversee and give strategic direction for implementation of the charter.

"Also in the devolved institutions there is not the appropriate mechanism that would enable progress forward in Irish Language at the same level as there is for Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales.

"There are no references to Irish language in UK legislation for broadcasting.

"The Department of Education's findings on Irish medium education have never been implemented and there is still a ban for the use of Irish in courts.

"While there is a financial cost, that does not come from the Irish language, it comes from the administration and service provision.

"The cost of providing a service in a different language is minimal."

Fionnguala McCotter principal of Scoil an Droichid in south Belfast said more needs to be done to promote Irish.

She told UTV: "Our pupils and their parents suffer because they experience Irish only in school and there isn't enough of it seen and heard out and about in the streets.

"And then the children have less confidence outside of the school environment which isn't good for them.

"The Stormont politicians and their parties need to take time out and consider how to address the issue of Acht na Gaeilge because they are only paying a degree of lip service to it at the moment."

The debate around an Irish Language Act has ended as it is clear that no cross-community support exists for such a proposal but it is clear that the Irish language is funded and supported by the Executive in line with its commitments.

MEP Diane Dodds

DUP MEP Diane Dodds said that the Executive was meeting its legal requirements and that public expenditure should be focused on vital public services in times of economic difficulty.

She said: "The report from the Council of Europe in relation to the Irish language takes a long list of aims, objectives and grievances from Irish language activist groups and places them in list form within the report.

"It is of course unsurprising that such groups will always want to see greater and greater use of Irish, it is worth noting that the Executive does meet its commitments in law, including the St Andrews Agreement Act which states that 'The Executive Committee shall adopt a strategy setting out how it proposes to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language'."

She went on: "There are obviously a huge number of competing priorities for a limited public finances across health, education and the public services which are so vital to people's lives in Northern Ireland.

"Therefore a call from the Council of Europe to spend more money providing simultaneous translation in the Northern Ireland Assembly or some of the other proposals are unlikely to be of a higher priority for the community than education, health housing and transport."

Responding to issues surrounding bilingual road signs, a statement from the Department of Regional Development said: "Early in 2012 the Minister for Regional Development (Danny Kennedy) decided not to pursue the matter and no further work has been undertaken since."

SDLP MLA for Newry and Armagh, Dominic Bradley said the criticism of the Executive over how it promotes the Irish language is "extremely embarrassing".

"There are several outstanding issues in relation to the Irish language arising from The St Andrews Agreement. These include the Irish Language Act, and the Irish language and Ulster Scots strategies," he commented.

"Even though the consultation on the Irish language/Ulster Scots strategies is long complete, there is no sign of the publication of either of these strategies, not to mention their implementation.

"There is an obligation on the Executive to look up to expectations in this respect and to co-operate, not only with the monitoring exercise on the Charter, but with its implementation."

© UTV News
Comments Comments
Larry in Belfast wrote (371 days ago):
I agree with you Lorna from Limavady, the number of times my comments are not printed is so frustrating. I think the moderator should be moderated him or herself and print as long as there is no bad language.
Ryan in An Dun wrote (373 days ago):
The DUP are the main instigators in this. In a Down Council meeting about bilingual signs a row broke out as a local DUP councillor William Walker even said he refused to use the new bilingual headed paper and he was stocking up on old paper. (Source, Down Recorder page 21). This shows the hatred the Irish language has come up against.
lorna in limavady wrote (374 days ago):
Ulysses32 in Belfast wrote (375 days ago):
Albert. Good suggestion. One would think schools should have been teaching the likes of French, Spanish and German for years.........And a double facepalm for your culture being threatened by an evil language....
Michael Monaghan in Belfast wrote (375 days ago):
NI - Sinn Fein cultural minister needs to bring Irish Language Act forward now .. It was promised under the GFA - but still not implemented ..
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