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Stormont has no Irish language strategy, Belfast court told

Lawyers for Irish language campaign group say Stormont is failing

By Alan Erwin

The Stormont Executive is breaching a decade-old legal duty to implement an Irish language strategy, the High Court has heard.

Counsel for a campaign group also claimed the administration has done nothing about its ongoing obligation since rejecting a blueprint in 2015.

Karen Quinlivan QC said: "The Executive has a duty to adopt, not just debate, a strategy and to this day there's no strategy of any kind in place."

Conradh na Gaeilge is seeking a judicial review amid claims of a failure to comply with a pledge stretching back to the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

Read more: Politicians on all sides urged to 'embrace' Irish language

The organisation alleges that the Executive is in breach of a statutory duty and wants a judge to order it must implement plans for enhancing and protecting the language's development.

A 20-year strategy for Irish was published in 2015 following consultation by former Culture Minister Caral ni Chuilin.

According to Conradh na Gaeilge's case the failure to take any further steps contravenes the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

Lawyers for the body also contend that the government is committed to implementing a European Charter for Regional or Minority Lanaguages.

Ms Quinlivan insisted the Executive cannot be allowed to d nothing after rejecting that strategy.

"This contention that the respondent is powerless to do anything in the face of a lack of action by the current Minister is really not a response to the central issue," she said.

"They are suggesting the fact there's been a passage of nine, almost ten years since the obligation came into existence doesn't in any way inform the court whether there's been a failure to adopt a strategy."

Arguing that amendments could have been suggested to the 2015 blueprint, the barrister stressed: "The Executive committee cannot simply refuse to take steps."

Tony McGleenan QC, for the Stormont government, countered that there had been no "inertia" on the issue.

Rejecting any suggestion of a "sham process", he contended that the draft strategy was properly assessed.

Executive committee business had been entirely orthodox, with a proper, qualitative assessment of the plans, he added.

Reserving judgment in the case, Mr Justice Maguire pledged to give careful consideration to the issues.

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