Council of Europe strongly recommends that Executive ‘adopt appropriate legislation protecting and promoting the Irish language’

International Call for Irish Language Act as majority, including 5 Parties and 50 of 90 Newly Elected MLAs, support the Legislation

In it’s 4th Opinion Monitoring Report, published today (9 March 2017), the Advisory Committee on the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities has strongly criticised the absence of any legislation to protect and promote the Irish language as was agreed in St Andrew’s Agreement 2006.

There are several key recommendations highlighted in the report for immediate action. Those recommendations, amongst other recommendations around Irish Medium education and Irish-language broadcasting, include:

  • Calls on the Executive to: “adopt appropriate legislation protecting and promoting the Irish language and take measures to ensure progress on language rights of persons belonging to the Irish minority”;
  • Calls on the UK Government to: “to help create the political consensus needed for such adoption.”

This report echoes and supports the recommendations made in the 6th Periodical Report from the Committee for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), which investigates the implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) (E/C.12/GBR/6), which was published 27 June 2016. As was clearly stated in the 5th ICESCR Periodical Report from June 2009; “the Committee reiterates its previous recommendation that the State party adopt an Irish Language Act”.

Dr Niall Comer, President of Conradh na Gaeilge says:

“This report emphasises the clear role of the British Government regarding creating the ‘consensus’ for an Act. It is evident they have not achieved this despite their commitments – not only regarding the St Andrews Agreement but also responsibilities on the British Government to protect and promote the Irish-language as per the international treaties and charters they have ratified. This is not the first time the British Government has been subject to criticism from international committees due to the lack of progress on Irish-language rights but we now hope, with the spotlight currently focusing on the language questions, that satisfactory provision will be implemented without further delay.”

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, Advocacy Manager, Conradh na Gaeilge, says:

“The most recent monitoring report from the Council of Europe supports what the Irish-language community has been saying for years – that there has not been any satisfactory progression made on the issue of protective legislation for the language, despite the clear duties signed up to in the 2006 St Andrews agreement. This report closely follows clear recommendations made in recent reports published by the United Nations calling on the British Government to implement an Irish-language Act as a priority. There is now strong international support for the Irish-language Act as a majority in the newly-elected Assembly, 50/90 new MLAs, also support the legislation. Now is the time for action – Act Now!”

NOTE FOR THE EDITOR:

The Council of Europe report can be accessed here:

http://www.coe.int/en/web/minorities/united-kingdom
http://www.coe.int/en/web/minorities/home

Here follows several of the Advisory Committee’s key-findings regarding the Irish-language, as per the report:

Recommendations for immediate action
The report from the Council of Europe:

  • Calls on the Executive to: “adopt appropriate legislation protecting and promoting the Irish language and take measures to ensure progress on language rights of persons belonging to the Irish minority”
  • Calls on the UK Government to: “to help create the political consensus needed for such adoption.”
  • Calls on the Executive to: “renew and intensify their efforts to develop Irish-medium education and Irish language teaching”
  • Calls on the relevant authorities to: “take resolute action to ensure that revision of the BBC Charter improves access to the media for persons belonging to national and ethnic minorities, increases funding, ensures a variety of programmes in minority languages, in particular the Irish language, involves minorities in their production”
  • Calls on the Executive to endeavour to: “implement the ‘good relations’ duty as provided under the Northern Ireland Act 1998 in a manner that does not run counter to the equality duty and that does not prevent access to rights of persons belonging to all national and ethnic minorities”

Points/Criticisms
The report from the Council of Europe:

  • Says that: Sectarian politics in Northern Ireland combined with a static interpretation of the notion of ‘good relations’ prevents the Executive from revising equality legislation and appears to have stalled the adoption of an Irish Language Bill.”
    Says that: “The apparent gridlock in the power-sharing arrangement has prevented adoption of the Irish Language Bill. The lack of progress on language rights of persons belonging to a national minority is emblematic of a wider practice of sectarian-driven policy making that appears to dominate the political process, pushing the protection of the rights of other national and ethnic minorities to the fringes”
    Says that: “Northern Ireland does not interpret the ‘good relations’ duty as including a duty to tackle racism, including sectarianism. Instead, the lack of proper definition allows this notion to be used rather as a ‘tool’ to set aside politically contentious issues, such as legislating on the Irish language, and to justify a “do-nothing” attitude, eventually based on ‘perceptions’ rather than objective criteria.”
    Says that: “Interlocutors of the Advisory Committee indicated that Irish language broadcasting has less statutory protection and funding under the Communications Act 2003 and the BBC’s Charter than Welsh and Scottish Gaelic. The Advisory Committee also noted that there is no longer an Irish language newspaper in Northern Ireland.”
    Says that it: “regrets that there has been little progress on the Irish Language Bill or a strategy for the development and enhancement of the Irish language. Notwithstanding public support, the Northern Ireland Executive rejected the competent minister’s proposal for the Irish Language Bill and strategy. The Advisory Committee understands that the main reason not to introduce the draft documents in the Assembly is the lack of political consensus, in particular among Unionist politicians who openly indicated that they would oppose the proposals. The implementation costs of the Bill and a strategy have been regularly mentioned by politicians as prohibitive in the current difficult financial climate. A separate strategy for 2015-2035 to enhance and develop Ulster-Scots language, heritage and culture appears to have followed the same fate. The financial constraints argument has been also applied to repeal of the 1737 Administration of Justice (Language) (Ireland) Act. This Act prohibits the use of any language other than English in the courts of Northern Ireland.”

Associated Organisations of Conradh na Gaeilge