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Northern Ireland Executive being sued over Irish language status

Published 04/04/2016

Northern Ireland's Executive is being taken to court over Irish language rights
Northern Ireland's Executive is being taken to court over Irish language rights

Stormont's politicians are to be sued over the lack of laws to promote the Irish language.

Campaigners at Conradh na Gaeilge said they were taking the Northern Ireland Executive to court after it failed to put a 20-year strategy to protect the use of the language on a legal footing.

They want to see the devolved government enshrine proposals to allow for bilingual Assembly and court business as well as official recognition of Gaeltacht areas and the right to Irish medium education.

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, Conradh's advocacy manager, said a lawsuit was needed to force action.

"The Irish-language community here is hugely disappointed and frustrated that the Executive hasn't adapted the Irish language strategy to promote and to protect our language," he said.

An Irish Language Act has been planned but it is opposed by the Democratic Unionist Party.

It includes provisions for place names to be identified in Irish as well as the appointment of an Irish language commissioner and Irish to be used by public bodies.

Caral Ni Chuilin, Stormont's Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, has promoted the planned laws and launched the 20-year plan to enhance and protect the Irish language in January last year.

But she has faced criticism from some DUP quarters for not putting the same emphasis on the use of Ulster-Scots.

Conradh na Gaeilge said that in the year since a "close partnership" has been fostered between the Sinn Fein MLAs' department and the Irish-language but it had failed to introduce legislation on the strategy despite its obligations .

Conradh president Coilin O Cearbhaill said Irish speakers must be given the support they deserve.

He said there is a commitment for the legal binding strategy from the British Government in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, as well as efforts by Ms Ni Chuilin's department to promote the language.

"Conradh na Gaeilge therefore finds it unsatisfactory that the strategy has not yet been accepted by the Executive, despite the progressive steps as outlined above having been taken," Mr O Cearbhaill said.

The legal action against the Stormont Executive will seek a judicial review of the failure to introduce new laws on the Irish language.

Conradh said the legal papers were lodged with the High Court in Belfast last week.

Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile said Unionists who block attempts to bring in laws on the use of Irish are out of step with most people in Northern Ireland.

"The Irish language belongs to everyone and no-one has anything to fear from legislation to protect the rights of Irish speakers," he said.

"This is an important human rights and equality issue and Sinn Fein will continue to campaign for Acht na Gaeilge."

A spokesman for Stormont's Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, said: "Under Minister Ni Chuilin, DCAL has taken a range of measures to promote and enhance the Irish language.

"In January 2015, the department published the Strategy to Enhance and Protect the Development of the Irish Language, which provides a framework for the Irish language over the next 20 years.

"In 2011, Liofa had a target of encouraging 1,000 people to become fluent in Irish and this is now approaching 18,000 sign-ups.

"Since 2013, the department has awarded almost 500 bursaries for summer colleges in the Gaeltacht to adults and young people in low-income households."

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