A conference devoted to discussing a bilingual approach to the new Super-councils was held in Armagh City Hotel yesterday, 25 March 2015. Two senior ministers, DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and DOE Minister Mark H Durkan MLA spoke out positively and strongly on behalf of the Irish language. Minister Ní Chuilín stated that the duties of the local governments are legislation-based and derive from the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages (ECMRL), and she pushed forward her motto for the conference today, saying; “To implement the Charter is to implement equality”.
Minister Durkan reinforced this support for the Irish language, and stated that the 11 new councils should be catering for the needs of the various Irish language communities in each council areas. Daniel Holder, from the Commission for the Administration of Justice spoke on the implementation of the ECMRL and claimed that no person has the right to be offended by seeing Irish given an equal status beside English. Seán Ó Coinn, deputy chief-executive of Foras na Gaeilge detailed the good practice that should be used in these new councils, and informed delegates that senior representatives from Foras na Gaeilge have recently conducted a series of meetings regarding the Irish language with main managerial representatives and chief executives of the new councils. Ó Coinn, on behalf of Foras na Gaeilge, then launched a detailed document on this issue, stating: “We would desire them [the new councils] all the have an Irish language policy, as well a strategy to oversee the implementation of that policy. Information regarding bilingual implementation in local government is covered in this document that Foras na Gaeilge is issuing today”. Two representatives of Welsh group Menter Iaith also spoke at the conference, detailing their own experiences on the effective role bilingualism can have in their own councils. The conference concluded with a talk from Éamon Ó Cuív, TD, who briefed the delegates on his own experiences regarding local governments in the south based on The Official Languages Act.
Cóilín Ó Cearbhaill, President of Conradh na Gaeilge, said:
I fully commend and support the talks given at our Conference in Armagh. International good practice is a vitally important point, and this conference highlighted that there is plenty that can be learned from the experiences and approaches of various authorities. It is worth remembering that language rights belong to the citizen, and that the authorities have a duty to cater for every citizen effectively. I believe that yesterday’s conference succeeded in putting this question on the agenda of the local governments, as well as that of the political parties, in the north’.
Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, Language Protection and Representation Manager, Conradh na Gaeilge, said:
‘Yesterday’s talks show that our lines of enquiry are rooted in European legislation, as described in ECMRL. What we are looking for is the strategic implementation of this Charter. Local authorities do not only have to cater for the Irish language, but also for the Irish language community, as a minority language and a minority community inside each council area in the north. This is only the first step, we will be greatly bringing this forward in the coming weeks and months.