POBAL, the Irish language umbrella group has said that there should be no return to Stormont without a guaranteed rights-based Irish Language Act. Janet Muller, POBAL’s Director said, ‘We welcome the recognition by nationalist parties that long standing commitments in the Good Friday Agreement and the St Andrews’ Agreement must be met. The withdrawal of funding for Gaeltacht bursaries is just the latest in a long line of sectarian attacks on a language which should belong to all. The only way to take the language out of the political arena once and for all is for Sinn Féin to refuse to re-enter government until a time scale for the introduction of a comprehensive, rights-based Irish Language Act has been publicly agreed and guaranteed by all parties.’
Janet said, ‘For a significant number of Irish-speakers in Northern Ireland, Irish is their language of choice, which they use every day in the home, in the neighbourhood, in social activities and in the workplace. In addition, Irish is an rich, ancient language with a treasury of literature. We all share a linguistic heritage and Irish has the potential to unite all the people who share this island. Irish is an Official Language of the European Union. In the North, it is recognised in significant clauses of the Good Friday and St Andrews’ Agreements, under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages and other international legislation.
The importance of language legislation to support the growth and development of endangered languages is widely recognised. People all over the world value linguistic diversity and the Act would help to protect and promote one of our unique selling points as well as enriching our society. There are language acts in the south, in Wales and in Scotland. Northern Ireland is the only place on these islands where there is no domestic legislation to protect the primary indigenous language.’
She continued, ‘The Irish Language Act was promised in the St Andrews’ Agreement in 2006. More than ten years on, it is more than time to move this issue forward. The political parties and the Irish and British governments now have the opportunity to resolve this outstanding issue. We welcome Sinn Féin’s emphasis on the Act, and call on them to state clearly that there will be no return to Stormont without a detailed guarantee and time scale on Irish language legislation.’