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Adams hails strength of Irish language community

Belfast's Irish language community is as strong as it has been in a hundred years, Gerry Adams said today.

The Sinn Fein President and Irish language enthusiast said the city enjoyed a growing gaelic language scene that was among the most vibrant in Ireland.

He said the tongue had become a living language in the city again and repeated calls for DUP Culture Minister Gregory Campbell to deliver legislation to protect it.

Mr Adams made his comments in the Culturlann - a converted church in the heart of west Belfast housing the city's best known Irish language centre, complete with bilingual restaurant and book shop.

"The big change in the fortunes of the Irish language in this city, probably in a century, is that it is now a living language," he said.

"There are people who live their lives through the Irish language and that's seen in the strength of the gaelscoileanna (Irish medium schools), in the young people being educated through the Irish language."

Census figures show 167,000 people have knowledge of Irish in Northern Ireland, while 4,000 children are educated through the language.

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Mr Adams said there was now growing demand for Irish language services.

"That is what sustains a culturlann. You could build a culturlann and it could be a white elephant," he said.

"But there is a demand for it. That's the difference.

"Obviously there is a big Irish language community in Dublin, but apart from Galway city where you can actually hear the language spoken on the streets, Belfast is one of the strong points outside of the formal Gaeltacht areas."

He added: "It's going to grow from strength to strength. That is what we have said to the DUP."

The St Andrews political agreement of 2006, which paved the way for power-sharing government at Stormont, promised an Irish language act for Northern Ireland to protect gaelic through legislation similar to that in place in Wales and Scotland.

But the DUP has blocked the move, with the party's Stormont Culture Minister Gregory Campbell instead set to deliver a minority languages strategy to the Executive in early 2009.

Mr Adams said unionists had failed to present a strong argument against protecting Irish.

He said of Mr Campbell: "He's a minister of culture whose avowed aim is to not preside over rights for the native indigenous language.

"So Gregory is an oxymoron in terms of those matters."

Mr Campbell has accused republicans of using Irish as a political weapon and has pledged to give equal funding to the Ulster Scots tongue.

But Mr Adams said: "There is a big job of work to be done to persuade unionists that the language does not threaten them.

"It's not party political... it's a wonderful heritage and the fact that it is alive is to the great credit to all of those people who have nurtured it and who continue to use it."

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