Belfast Telegraph

Richard Haass calls for Irish to be an official language in Northern Ireland

By Liam Clarke

Richard Haass has risked the anger of unionists after he said the Irish language should be considered for official use in Northern Ireland.

He also called for a Troubles museum to be built in an acceptance speech as he was awarded the Tipperary Peace Award.

Those previously honoured with the prestigious award include Nelson Mandela, Mikhail Gorbachev and Bill Clinton.

He got the award for chairing talks here on flags, parading and the past last year. But his speech included two items absent from the draft report he drew up.

One was increased use of the Irish language. Referring to the aspiration of many people for Irish unity, he said: "Irish identity could and should be respected in many ways within existing constitutional arrangements, possibly including a larger, official role for the Irish language."

While Irish already has some legal protections, such a move would likely mean more use of Irish on roads signs, State documents and court proceedings – something unionists consistently and vocally oppose.

Dr Haass also said the Troubles museum was not included in his blueprint because it had "proved too controversial – but I am persuaded it is essential".

He added: "The goal would not be to force or even seek agreement on a common narrative on what occurred, but rather to put under one roof competing narratives of what happened and why. There would, I hope, be agreement on many of the facts if not the legitimacy of what was done."

The Tipperary Peace Convention said although Dr Haass' plan had not been accepted, it "could yet form the basis for a deal".

The former diplomat agreed.

"It was the result of compromise. But while there may be other ways to approach these challenges, there is likely to be a limit to what can change and still command broad public support," he said.

BACKGROUND

After the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, the Government promised to introduce an Irish Language Act, although it never happened.

Then when devolution was restored in 2007, the DUP took the Culture ministry and plans for the act were ditched amid claims it would be too expensive to implement laws that would see Irish enshrined in all facets of public life.

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