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Irish language legislation will not be ‘end in its own right’ claims campaigner, ahead of expected announcement from Westminster

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Tens of thousands of people supporting the ÒAn Dream DeargÓ movement pictured at a march in Belfast on Saturday (Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press)

Tens of thousands of people supporting the ÒAn Dream DeargÓ movement pictured at a march in Belfast on Saturday (Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press)

Tens of thousands of people supporting the ÒAn Dream DeargÓ movement pictured at a march in Belfast on Saturday (Arthur Allison/Pacemaker Press)

An Irish language campaigner has admitted legislation expected to be set out in the coming week at Westminster will “not be an end in its own right”.

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, from the Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge said the move by Secretary of State Brandon Lewis is overdue and claimed the “days of us waiting for change and giving space to politicians is over”.

The campaigner was speaking following a significant demonstration in Belfast city centre on Saturday which saw thousands of activists take to the streets before a rally at the city hall.

The march, which has been planned for months, was organised by campaign group An Dream Dearg.

Chants by protesters included calling for an Irish Language Act and recitals of Irish language phrases such as "tir gan teanga, tir gan anam", which translates as "a country without a language is a country without a soul".

Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Mr Mac Giolla Bhein said legislation around the language should be “welcomed by all”.

He also claimed that even in the event of power sharing being restored at Stormont, Mr Lewis should “step in” if unionists attempt to block aspects of the language.

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“We were told the act was coming in 2006 as part of the St Andrews Agreement and we are here in 2022 without any progress on it,” he said.

“Since then we’ve had three public consultations, ten years of power sharing, we’ve had numerous agreements, numerous collapses of the Assembly and none of that has delivered the legislation promised to us many years ago.

“I think first and foremost we wanted to send a reminder for those that hoped... with the resumption of Stormont that we would leave the scene.

“There is absolutely no chance of that happening. The young people there yesterday in their thousands were sending a very clear message.

“The days of us waiting for change and giving space to politicians is over. We want to see immediate implementation of rights that were promised to us.”

Plans to legislate for the Irish language were announced in the Queen’s Speech.

It fell to the Northern Ireland Office after the Stormont parties were unable to agree to introduce cultural and language legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly which was part of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal.

The plans include an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to promote respect for diversity as well as an Irish Language Commissioner and a commissioner to develop language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition.

Last June, the UK Government pledged to pass the legislation at Westminster to break an impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP over its introduction in the Stormont Assembly.

However, the Government failed to bring forward a Bill before its self-imposed October deadline last year.

On a visit to Northern Ireland on Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson further pledged to deliver on the cultural package in the coming weeks – with many speculating the legislation could emerge as soon as days.

“For us this is a human rights issue. We need to move beyond the history we have had here the ridicule,” Mr Mac Giolla Bhein added.

“What we want the state now to do is play an active role in developing the language, particularly in terms of those who may have animosity towards the language. We have seen other countries in these islands going through this process.

“[The legislation] will not be an end in its own right. You embed the legislation there then you look to see where the deficits are.”


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