With the Stormont talks facing into a critical make or break phase over the next four weeks the Belfast Gaeltacht Development Agency, Forbairt Feirste, has issued an open letter to all the main talks participants asking that an urgent fact finding delegation visit the Gaeltacht Quarter in an effort to ensure that the issue of the rights of Irish Language speakers is dealt with in a non-partisan way based on a sound knowledge of the issues which face Irish :Language speakers on a daily basis.
Much lazy journalism has posited the debate around this issue in terms of the Irish Language ” holding up” issues such as the health and education crises. Nothing could be further from the truth and this tired line bears no serious scrutiny. No one realistically envisages the current talks lasting beyond the end of February – anything beyond that would surely put the final nail in the coffin of a political process which has currently run out of road and of credibility.
The issue of an Irish Language Act is a demand of the Irish Language community not of any political party. Across the board Irish Language activists have given a huge welcome to the public support for such an act from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party, the Green Party and People Before profit and have demanded that there be no backsliding on these commitments by any of these parties.
Language rights for our fellow indigenous languages in Wales and Scotland are already well established and our fellow Irish speakers in the South enjoy similar protection.
In the letter issued dated January 31st, by our Chairperson Pilib Ó Ruanaidh and addressed to The Tánaiste Simon Coveney and Karen Bradley MP, the British Secretary of State ( both of whose governments are co-guarantors of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements) Mr Ó Ruanaidh notes: “How the issue of Irish Language rights is addressed should be clearly informed by a sound knowledge of the everyday issues facing those whose first choice of langauge, in education, business, home life and public life, is Irish.”
Below is an English Language translation of the full text of Pilib Ó Ruanaidh’s letter to Simon Coveney TD, Karen Bradley MP, Arlene Foster MLA, Michelle O Neill MLA, Colm Eastwood MLA, Robin Swann MLA and Naoimi Long MLA:
All of us are cognisant of the difficulties we face in finding and negotiating sustainable arrangements which respect the rights and ensure the future of our entire community.
There are clear challenges but also clear opportunities in the few short weeks ahead to ensure progress. The status of the Irish Language and the rights of Irish speakers are among the key areas of focus in the current talks and whilst a lot has been said on the subject there is doubtless a lot of misunderstanding and at times downright misinformation on these issues.
Forbairt Feirste, the Gaeltacht Quarter Development Agency believes in taking opportunities for building goodwill and mutual understanding and would therefore like to invite Karen Bradley Mp and Simon Coveney TD to organise a fact-finding delegation to visit the Gaeltacht Quarter at our invitation. The purpose of the visit would be to both acquaint the main talks participants with some of the work that is ongoing in the Gaeltacht Quarter and to allow for us to engage in a positive exchange of views on what we can do to fulfil our mutual aim of ensuring there are no cold places in our society. We greatly welcome the fact that all of the talks participants without exception have indicated a desire to see the issue of rights for Irish speakers addressed and resolved. Indeed three of the main parties have in private meetings with us and in public committed to ensuring the enactment legislation protecting the rights of Irish speakers. How these issues are addressed should be clearly informed by a sound knowledge of the everyday issues facing those whose first choice of langauge, in education, business, home life and public life, is Irish. We issue this invitation with a sense of urgency and sincerely hope that our invitation is taken seriously and is availed off. We look forward to hearing from you at your very earliest convenience.
Le meas, Pilib Ruanaidh Forbairt Feirste
Let’s hope that this initiative by Irish Language speakers is recieved in the spirit in which it is issued and that it can be assessed on its merits as a genuine attempt to inform discussions around this issue and can assist in ensuring that there are no cold places in our society and can go some small way towards removing some of the toxcitiy which has been a hallmark of what to date has been an at times ill-informed debate.
The DUP cannot sell a ‘stand alone’ Irish language Act to unionists. If an Irish language Act could be shown to be the wish of a majority of people here, as expressed in a referendum, that would neutralise the party political aspect and provide an escape route for DUP/UUP. Such a referendum could be legally binding only if it was representative of the population, say 60% of those entitled to vote.
Assuming a majority voted for a stand-alone Act, unlikely as that would seem, then the trouble would really start. We could look forward to endless wrangling about the provisions of such an Act and to endless Sisyphean attempts to achieve the impossible.