Belfast Telegraph

International body backs Irish language commissioner role for Northern Ireland

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

By Mark Edwards

Members of an international body backed the need for an Irish language commissioner for Northern Ireland.

Eleven language commissioners from Canada, Spain, Wales, Ireland, Kosovo and Belgium have signed a letter of support for the role to be created. The letter was sent to Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge.

The signatories are from the International Association of Language Commissioners, an umbrella group for language commissioners in a number of countries.

The principal role of the commissioner would be to promote and facilitate use of the language. They would also police the standards required of public sector bodies in delivering services in Irish.

Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said the position would be "vital" in protecting language rights and help facilitate its use.

“Irish language speakers are entitled to the same language rights as enjoyed by citizens who live their daily lives through the medium of English," he said.

“There needs to be Irish language rights and legal protections in the north, just as there is elsewhere on these islands.

“The British Government has an onerous obligation to promote the Irish language under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages."

A protest at Stormont in February last year in favour of an Irish Language Act

The call for an Irish language legislation to be enacted in Northern Ireland has been a major sticking point during power-sharing talks, with both main unionist parties opposing an Irish Language Act being introduced.

TUV leader Jim Allister told the Belfast Telegraph he opposed an Irish language commissioner for Northern Ireland and that Irish language legislation would result in the alienation of the unionist community.

“It should come as no surprise that quangos should support the creation of another quango," he said.

"They are hardly going to say my post is pointless and the industry - funded entirely out of the public purse - should not exist."

Mr Allister said under proposals produced by Sinn Fein in 2015, an Irish language commissioner would force public bodies to promote the language and make it a criminal offence for refusing or failing to co-operate with the work of the Irish language commissioner.

“We have seen from proposals floated by Sinn Fein that Irish language legislation would result in discrimination against non-Irish speakers when it comes to employment, particularly in the legal profession and the civil service and huge cost in providing a fully bilingual public service with endless and needless expenditure on translation in courts, councils and Assembly," the North Antrim MLA said.

He added: "[Sinn Fein] seek to make those who don’t see themselves as Irish feel alienated in their own land. That’s why many people from a unionist/Protestant background left the Irish Republic after de Valera introduced the aggressive promotion of Irish in the 1930s."

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