Belfast Telegraph

London urged to guarantee rights for Ireland's gaelic speakers

Irish language activists have called on the UK government to ensure the introduction of legislative protections for gaelic speakers amid an ongoing Stormont stalemate on the issue.

Demonstrators held a picket outside Hillsborough Castle and handed in individual letters urging Secretary of State James Brokenshire to intervene.

A row over whether an Irish Language Act should be enshrined in law in Northern Ireland is one of the main obstacles preventing the reestablishment of a powersharing executive at Stormont.

It is one of Sinn Fein's preconditions for re-entering devolved government.

The Democratic Unionists have indicated a willingness to legislate to protect Irish language rights, but only if similar measures are introduced for the Ulster Scots community.

Sinn Fein has rejected that proposal, insisting a stand-alone Irish Language Act was promised by the UK government in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.

With little sign of a breakthrough on the issue at Stormont, campaigners descended on Hillsborough to call on Mr Brokenshire to push for a resolution.

They also called on the Secretary of State to meet with them on the matter.

Children and teenagers educated in Irish language schools were among those to hand in letters at the front gates of the castle, which is Mr Brokenshire's official residence in Northern Ireland.

Campaigner Grainne Ni Ghillin said: "The call for an Irish Language Act is one that comes directly from our streets, from our families, our schools and our young people.

"We have taken this to the very heart of the political debate and we want to keep it there until our rights are realised in law.

"The British Government can no longer stand by.

"It is high time they fulfilled their own obligations as co-guarantors of the St Andrews Agreement, and as a Government that facilitates the same legislation in both Scotland and Wales."

Fellow activist Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein said the Irish language community had been waiting too long for an Act.

"Now is the time for action," he said.

"We are calling on the Secretary of State to officially meet us and discuss this matter with us.

"We are also calling on him to use his role during the cross-party talks that will reconvene in September, to ensure that this issue is resolved and that outstanding commitments in relation to the Irish language are finally fulfilled."

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