Gaelic activists are celebrating a landmark decision to make Ireland’s first language an official language of the European Union.
Foreign ministers from the 25 EU member states agreed to include the language in the official list of 21 working languages at a meeting in Luxembourg yesterday.
In the future, EU laws will be issued in Irish; Irish may be spoken in the European Parliament; and whenever job opportunities with EU institutions arise, these are open to EU citizens who can speak two or more EU languages, now including Irish.
One member of the European parliament, Galway’s Sean O Neachtain MEP is a native Irish speaker.
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister, Dermot Ahern welcomed the decision and said: “This affirms at European level the dignity and status of our first official language.
“This represents a particularly significant practical step for the Irish language, and complements the government’s wider policy of strong support for the language at home.”
The decision came after the Irish government tabled a proposal in Brussels seeking official and working status for the Irish language last November.
“This is a big day for the Irish language, which will add greatly to the status of the language,” said Eamon O Cuiv, the Minister for Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs.
“When Conradh na Gaeilge was founded the Irish language had no official status whatsoever. The progress that has been made since then is wonderful. Irish has the status of first official language of the State since 1937. For the past ten years, great progress has been made based on that status, through the Official Languages Act, the Good Friday Agreement and now, to top it all, official and working status at a European level.”
Sinn Féin MEP Bairbre de Brun welcomed official EU recognition for the Irish language as a “victory for campaigners from all over Ireland and further afield who continue to campaign for equality for the language”.
“I want to pay tribute to all those involved in the STADAS campaign for their hard work and determination, which undoubtedly moved the Irish government to act on this issue,” she said.
Demands were made last night for an Irish language act in the North following yesterday’s landmark decision.
Pobal, the umbrella organisation for grass-roots Irish-language groups in the North, has been leading the lobby for an Irish language act in the North to protect Irish speakers’ rights.
Janet Muller, chief executive of the Pobal, said: “The North of Ireland is the only place on these islands where the primary indigenous language is not protected by domestic legislation.
“In Wales, they have the Welsh Language Act. In Scotland, they have the Gaelic Act and, in the South, they have consititutional protections and the Official Languages Act.
“Now the European Union has recognised the official status of the Irish language. There are 167,000 Irish-language speakers in the North yet there is no domestic protection for the language. That is an anomaly in terms of language legislation on these islands.”