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Mary Lou McDonald urges ‘no more delays’ in passing Irish language legislation following introduction of new bill

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Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

PA

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald has said there must be “no more delays” in the deliverance of Irish language legislation, following its “historic” introduction to the House of Commons on Wednesday.

The Identity and Language Bill, if and when fully implemented, will grant official status to the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

Brandon Lewis announced that the British government is also to provide “the promised £4m to the Irish language Investment Funds" to support the development of the language in Northern Ireland through small capital grants.

The NI Secretary of State said it forms part of the £140m of Unique Circumstances funding provided by the New Decade, New Approach deal that restored power-sharing in January 2020, after a three-year impasse in the region.

The proposed bill will further repeal the 1737 Administration of Justice (Language) Act (Ireland) which banned the use of Irish and languages other than English in the courts here.

It will also see the appointment of Irish and Ulster Scots/Ulster British commissioners, and the establishment of an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, "to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity" according to the Northern Ireland Office.

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Commissioner roles must be appointed by a First and deputy First Minister - two roles which are currently vacant as the DUP is refusing to nominate ministers until the UK Government takes action on the Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, the legislation also allows for the Secretary of State to make the appointments if these posts remain vacant.

Irish language activists marked the day by unfurling a giant campaign flag at the front of Parliament Building at Stormont on Wednesday.

An Dream Dearg campaign spokesperson Padraig O Tiarnaigh described the announcement as “an historic advancement” for the Irish-speaking community and said “it is a staging post on our long, long road towards language rights and equality, and we recognise it as such”.

"It doesn't bring us to where we ultimately want to be. Stacked up against the Welsh model for language rights, for example, it does fall well short and does fall short of what we were promised at St Andrew's, but for the 20,000 people that came out on the streets of Belfast on Saturday, for the generations of people who have walked this road with us for decades, today belongs to them," Mr O Tiarnaigh continued.

"This is a day to celebrate and recognise all of that work and those pioneers who challenged the state when it wasn't cool and when people said no, no, no."

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Irish language demonstrators at Stormont on Wednesday: (Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker)

Irish language demonstrators at Stormont on Wednesday: (Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker)

Irish language demonstrators at Stormont on Wednesday: (Pic Colm Lenaghan/ Pacemaker)

The Northern Ireland Office said the bill aims to "deliver a balanced package of measures for Northern Ireland on identity and language, fulfilling the commitments set out in New Decade, New Approach".

"It will provide for the recognition and protection of the Irish language and the development of the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition," the department said in a statement.

Separate to the Identity and Language Bill, the UK Government announced it is granting Ulster Scots recognition as a national minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities - a status already granted to Irish, Welsh, Scots and Cornish.

Last June, the UK Government pledged to pass Irish language legislation at Westminster to break a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP over its introduction in the Stormont Assembly.

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

During a visit to Northern Ireland last week, Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged to deliver on the cultural package.

Brandon Lewis said the Bill "represents a significant milestone, not just in the continued delivery of New Decade, New Approach, but in laying down a new cultural framework for the people of Northern Ireland".

"This legislation is carefully balanced, as negotiated by all parties, to ensure everyone in Northern Ireland benefits.

"Not only will the legislation faithfully deliver on the measures within New Decade, New Approach, it will also, importantly, ensure the principles of respect and tolerance, as stated in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, continue to be realised."


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