Belfast Telegraph

Politicians on all sides urged to 'embrace' Irish language

An Irish language act would remove negative politics around the issue, a community leader said.

Hostile politicians have deliberately misused their remarks about the contentious demand , the director of advocacy organisation Pobal Janet Muller added.

The DUP has again ruled out a Stormont law granting official protection and said more people speak Polish as the election campaign steps up a gear.

Ms Muller said legislation would allow Irish services to be treated as a simple administrative matter.

"We just need really to take the wind out of the sails of negative politicians and say: 'Get over yourselves. This language is for everyone, embrace it'."

Ms Muller joined scores of children and activists at a protest outside Belfast High Court where a legal challenge was launched against what critics term the Stormont executive's failure to introduce a language strategy.

She said: "It is extremely frustrating and it is part of the picture of negative politicking that we have seen over the last 10 years and I think has come to a head again quite recently.

"We don't want the Irish language to be a contentious issue.

"Part of that desire is what is behind wanting legislation, so it would take the issue of language services and recognition and status for the language out of the political arena and really make it a much simpler administrative issue.

"It is very difficult but certainly I think there is a deliberate use of and misuse of very hostile and negative language about the Irish language from certain sectors of political life."

Around a tenth of the population in Northern Ireland has some knowledge of Irish and Ms Muller said it brought medical and educational benefits.

DUP leader Arlene Foster recently suggested more people spoke Polish than Irish.

She added: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."

Two men in green crocodile suits joined the protest in Belfast on Wednesday.

Dozens of school children educated in Irish also took park as well as Assembly candidates from Sinn Fein and People Before Profit.

The 2011 census showed 189,000 people had some knowledge of Irish and Ms Muller said the total was increasing.

"There is certainly not that number of people who have knowledge of any ethnic minority language."

She said minority tongues like Polish deserved equal respect.

"But that is not treated in the same way anywhere in the world as the rights of speakers of indigenous minority languages.

"Polish is safe in Poland, if Irish is not safe in Ireland where is it going to be safe?"

Conradh na Gaeilge took Wednesday's legal challenge.

President Coilin O Cearbhaill said: "We are talking about simple measures relating to children, Irish at home, visibility of the language; things that will make a demonstrable difference to the increasing numbers of people living their lives through Irish.

"The courts must act when the executive doesn't."

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