Belfast Telegraph

Academics, musicians and sports stars sign letter demanding Irish Language Act

Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act
Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act

More than 200 prominent figures from the worlds of sport, music, politics and academia have signed an open letter to Leo Varadkar and Theresa May calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland.

Published in the Irish News, the letter cites both the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews Agreement's commitments by the London and Dublin Governments to introduce Irish language legislation.

The letter reads: "In the case of a failure to agree an Irish language Act in the current talks, we call upon the British Government to implement their outstanding commitments in accordance with the St Andrew's Agreement and for the Irish Government to fulfil their duties as co-guarantors of that agreement."

An Irish Language Act has been a major sticking point in the several rounds of talks that have taken place between Northern Ireland's political parties in a bid to restore power-sharing.

Among the signatories of the letter, which was penned by the campaign group An Dream Dearg, are singer and songwriter Damien Dempsey, actor John Connors, Belfast boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes and the Hillsborough Independent Panel's Phil Scraton.

Unison regional secretary Patricia McKeown said that "language rights are human rights" and an Irish Language Act must be introduced to "ensure parity of esteem".

"We are calling for the return of our government within an equality and rights based framework as set out in the UNISON and Equality Coalition manifestos," she added.

Damien Dempsey said: "A huge amount of ancient European literature was saved from extinction in the dark ages by Irish monks copying it in Gaeilge and keeping it safe in remote monasteries around Ireland."

Back in February last year, it was thought a deal had been made between the DUP and Sinn Fein that included a three-stranded approach to dealing with the issue.

It was reported that legislation was agreed comprising an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a broader Culture and Respect Act, however DUP leader Arlene Foster later publicly denied such a deal had been made.

An Dream Dearg spokesman Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein said supporters of an Irish Language Act "are not seeking any special privilege or concession", but "simply the right to lives our lives through Irish".

"Irish belongs to us all and this letter demonstrates once again that many people here are committed to protecting and promoting our native language moving forward," he added.

"That is done through legislation, the type of rights-based legislation that was promised to us in 2006. If we are sincere about `depoliticising' the Irish language, rights-based legislation is now the only way to effectively and sustainably do so."

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