Recent protests over discrimination against Irish language speakers in the north of Ireland are to reach a climax on Saturday with a major demonstration through Belfast city centre.
The organisers of ‘An La Dearg’ have called the march ‘to demand Equality, Rights and Fairness for the language and those who speak it’. It follows on from similar marches in Dublin and Conamara last month.
The demonstration comes as a Dublin man appeared in court on charges related to speaking Irish. Republican Sinn Fein treasurer Diarmuid Mac Dubhghlais, whose arrest and charging under special anti-terrorist legislation was first reported by IRN last month, appeared at a Derry court late last week.
Defence lawyer Brian Stelfox told the court his client had come out of a house in the Creggan area of the city and had been stopped and searched by the PSNI. When questioned, he and gave his name and address in Irish, without providing an English translation or spelling. For this, he was charged with “refusing to answer questions put to him” and held overnight at Strand Road PSNI base, where he also had to endure a bid to recruit him as an informer.
Prosecutions for speaking Irish are rare since laws against the use of the language were officially repealed some centuries ago.
Mr Mac Dubhghlais was referred to in court and in subsequent news coverage as ‘Dermot Douglas’, the standard English translation of his name. In court, a bewildered judge asked: “Is the sum total of this case that he gave his name in Irish?”.
A prosecution lawyer asked for the case to be adjourned for four weeks ‘for further investigation’. Mr Stelfox said he was “at a loss to see how there could be any further investigation”. He further argued that his client should have the right to to have the case heard in Irish. The case was adjourned until 1 May.
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The SDLP’s Dominic Bradley claimed this week here had been progress in some areas for the Irish language in the North, but said there had been a ‘marked slow-down in progress’.
“Failure to advance an Irish Language Act and indeed the Irish language strategy has angered many Irish speakers,” he said.
“More recently changes to the Foras na Gaeilge funding regime has had a detrimental effect on long-standing Irish language organisations like Ultach, Pobal, and Comhaltas Uladh and has left the established Irish language magazines short of vital funding”.
In January of this year, a report from the European Council Committee of Experts on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages found that ‘hostile attitudes’ persisted towards the Irish language in the Six Counties and, despite the Committee’s recommendation to implement comprehensive language policy in 2009, no steps have been taken towards any policy.
Caoimhe Ni Chathail, spokesperson for the campaign’s working group said: “We strongly believe that people who choose Irish as their language should have the opportunity and right to use it. There will be public meetings throughout Ireland to attract support for this march and we wish to deliver a definitive, strong message to the authorities on this issue”.
Sinn Fein Irish language spokesperson Rosie McCorley Assembly member has also called on all who support Irish language rights to join the ‘La Dearg’ march tomorrow [Saturday].
“It’s about demanding rights and justice for Irish speakers north and south,” said Ms McCorley.
The march will leave Culturlann McAdam O Fiach Saturday, 12 April, at 2pm and will finish in Custom House Square in Belfast City Centre.