Irish Language Act

Work on the Irish Language Act

Pobal have been focusing on the question of an Irish Language Act for the North since 2003.  We  have managed to garner unprecedented support in terms of advice on a legislative model that would include the Irish Language’s unique position in the North, as well as best international practice.  These experts included Robert Dunbar (Aberdeen University), Wilson McLeod (Edinburgh University), Colin Williams (University of Wales) and Fernand de Varennes (Murdock University, Austrialia).

The Irish Language Act – Issue 2

Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, launched POBAL’s updated proposals for an Irish Language Act for the north at an event at the Stormont Hotel on Tuesday 26th June. Janet Muller, POBAL’s CEO said, ‘ We are pleased that the Minister was able to be with us to launch the second issue of the document,Acht na Gaeilge/The Irish Language Act. We hope that the proposals will inform and assist the work her Department is carrying out to prepare for Irish language legislation in fulfilment of the British government commitment at St Andrews.’

Carál Ní Chuilín said: ‘DCAL is committed to bringing forward legislative proposals for Acht na Gaeilge. Work by officials is ongoing. Full legislation will require the agreement of the Executive and Assembly. I hope that all supporters of the Irish language will work together to convince the Assembly of the merits of supporting Acht na Gaeilge.’

Janet Muller said, ‘At the event, we also discussed the updated proposals with a panel of speakers including the Irish Language Commissioner from the south, Seán Ó Cuirreáin, who talked about the importance of language legislation in the south and his own work there and internationally; Daniel Holder, the Deputy Director of the Committee on the Administration of Justice who gave a Human Rights perspective; Micheal Ó Duibh, the CEO of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta (the representative body for Irish Medium Education) and Professor Dónal Ó Baoill (QUB)’. Carál Ní Chuilín also co-sponsored POBAL’s major international conference on language legislation in Stormont’s Long Gallery in 2011 which endorsed the principles behind the legislative proposals we first launched in 2006. At the conference it was agreed to update the document to reflect international developments in the 6 years since the St Andrews Agreement, and the progress in new technologies and in education. POBAL has carried out a further community consultation on the proposals which have been drafted with the support and guidance of some of the foremost authorities on language law and planning internationally, including Professor Robert Dunbar of the University of Aberdeen, Professor Colin Williams of the University of Cardiff, Dr Fernand de Varennes of the Murdoch University, Australia and Dr Wilson McLeod of the University of Edinburgh.     Janet Muller said, ‘Former NI Ombudsman, Maurice Hayes has also updated his Introduction to the document. We are delighted that all the experts who supported us in the original document are continuing to advise and inform us in our work. It means that the document, The Irish Language Act – Issue 2 brings together the views of both the community and the experts and we are delighted to be launching it .’

New to the document this time round are strengthened sections on Irish Medium education and on the teaching of Irish in English Medium schools, as well as proposals regarding integrated online vocabulary tools, online media provision and proposals seeking to redress perceived disparities in the way the Irish language is treated in the media here compared with provision for Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales. In addition, in chapters written by leading international experts, the duty of the UK government and devolved institutions to respond fairly to the developmental needs of the Irish language in the north are discussed and positive actions within the UK, in Ireland and elsewhere in the last 6 years are highlighted.

Download a copy of ‘The Irish Language Act – Issue 2’ > Click here


The Irish Language Act – Issue 1

After an International conference in November 2004, POBAL published draft legislative proposals and carried out a full consultation process that lasted from April to October 2005.  Public meetings were held in Belfast, Derry, Strabane, Omagh, Newry and Fermanagh.   Meetings also focused on the Irish medium sector in the North.  We organised consultation meetings with Irish Language groups north and south, with human rights groups, with unions and with northern political parties.

We worked out agreed proposals during this process that were published in February 2006.  Our document Acht na Gaeilge TÉ / The Irish Language Act NI was launched by Maurice Hayes, senator, ex-ombudsman and ex-senior civil servant for the North.

Setting up the Irish Language co-ordinating group enabled us to focus our collaborations on a single, clear and agreed model in pursuit of an Irish Language Act.  Pobal were able to greatly raise the profile of the Irish Language and put the question of an Irish Language Act on political agendas both north and south.

In October 2006, 8 months after we published our document on an Irish Language Act for the North, the Irish and British Governments announced the St Andrews Agreement as a result of political talks to restart a devolved Assembly (the Assembly had been put on hold since 2002).  In the Agreement the British Government gave the following agreement:

“The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.”

In December 2006 the department of Culture, Arts and Leisure published a consultation document that described 4 legislative models, with POBAL’s proposals included.  POBAL began to inform and advise Irish Language groups and the general community about the Irish Language Act and encouraged them to send their views and answers to DCAL.  Thousands came out onto the streets to support us and to protect their language rights.  When the process ended, DCAL admitted that they had received 5000 names in various petitions supporting POBAL’s proposals, as well as 668 written submissions.
According to the Department these responses show that there is great interest among the community in this question and that POBAL’s proposals have great support:

‘This reflects a significant level of interest in the issues raised in the paper. Of those who responded, the overwhelming majority (93%) favoured the adoption of Irish language legislation; while a small minority of respondents strongly disagreed with the proposal. Those in favour preferred a rights-based approach. Those against (7%) cited cost issues and the perception that legislation would be politically divisive.’

The Department decided not to introduce this legislation before the setting up of the new Assembly.  They announced a second consultation process, saying that the assembly would be responsible for Irish language issues from then on.  The biggest Unionist party, the DUP under the leadership of Ian Paisley, made known that they were against legislation and that they would not introduce it.

Since the restoration of the second Assembly the Irish language and legislation promised by the British Government have come under sustained attack.  POBAL has remained steadfast in it’s pioneering work for an Irish language Act.  In October 2008, two years after the St Andrews Agreement, POBAL and it’s co-ordinating group organized a parade from three areas of the city to Belfast City centre to demand an Irish language Act.  Thousands attended this lively and colourful parade.

Our work will continue!

Download Irish Language Act – Issue 1 > Click here


POBAL Booklet: Fifteen years from the Good Friday Agreement – are the promises made in respect of the Irish language being kept? Personal views from the Irish speaking community? 

According to many Irish speakers, the Good Friday Agreement had the potential to be a great step forward for the Irish language, but its commitments are not being met. These are the conclusions from a collection of personal views and a survey collated by POBAL, the umbrella organisation for the Irish speaking community. The new publication contains 15 chapters – one for every year since the Agreement was signed. It is a varied and interesting cross section of views from Irish speakers, ranging from veteran Séamus Mac Seáin through TV and film producer, Pilib Mac Cathmhaoil, academic Dónall Ó Baoill, reporters Eoghan Ó Neill and Robert McMillen to writer and full-time parent, Máire Zepf.  POBAL also carried out a survey with 140 educationalists and teachers, which found very high levels of support for legislative, policy and strategic action on behalf of Irish and Irish Medium Education, and high levels of dissatisfaction with how the GFA promises are being met.

Click here to download or read the publication

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