Thousands of supporters of the Irish language took part in a march through the city centre last weekend demanding equal rights for the language.
The rally - the first of its kind - was to highlight the need for the promised Irish Language Act and to oppose unionist attempts to bin it.
During last November’s St Andrew’s negotiations, political parties agreed to introduce an Irish Language Act that will force the British government to allocate the language proper financial resources. But since then both the DUP and Ulster Unionists have voiced opposition to such a move.
The consultation period on proposals for the Act ends on March 2. And to remind the British government of the widespread support for the new legislation, Irish language activists staged a colourful parade through the city centre.
The march started at the Culturlann on the Falls Road before ending at Writers’ Square.
West Belfast MP Gerry Adams told those gathered that he was confident that there would be an Irish Languge Act.
“The Act has to have at its heart legislative rights for Irish speakers. It needs resources to make this a reality and a commissioner to oversee all of that.”
After the speeches, Gaelic reggae band Breag entertained the crowd.
Janet Muller of Irish language umbrella group Pobal described the march and rally as “a really historic occasion”.
“Never before has such a march been seen in the north of Ireland and I think the level of support showed that the achievements of the Irish language community are worthy of celebration,” she said.
Ms Muller said Irish speakers are “an integral part of the community and we would like that to be recognised in a strong rights-based Irish language act”.
“There is a visibility problem with the Irish-speaking community very often - we tend to be a hidden community - so what we wanted to do was to come out and give people the chance to see how strong the community is, how young it is, how lively and how positive it is.”
Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, secretary of Na Gaeil oga, said the north’s young people were firmly behind the demand for an Irish language act.
“One of the biggest developments in the Irish language movement in the country has been the growth of the Irish-medium sector in education, so you have thousands of people coming through that system and many of them want to be as active as their parents were,” he said.
“They see this campaign as an opportunity to get involved in helping bring about legislation which will bring about real, positive change that will benefit young Irish speakers in the future,” he said.
Forbairt Feirste Director Jake Mac Siacais, one of the parade organisers, said he was thrilled with the turnout.
The march started at the Culturlann on the Falls Road before ending at Writers’ Square in the city centre.
“There was upwards of 4,000 people there and everyone enjoyed themselves. It was a real carnival atmosphere and very, very colourful,” said Jake.
“We wanted to show the British government the massive support there is for an Irish Language Act.”
GUILTY FOR SPEAKING IRISH
* An Irish-speaking teacher has been found guilty of ‘disorderly behaviour’ on a Belfast street
Mhaire Nic an Bhaird was fined a hundred pounts at Belfast Magistrates Court.
She has always insisted that the only reason she was arrested by the PSNI police in Belfast last May was because she had been speaking Irish.
After the fine was imposed, Nic an Bhaird’s barrister said his client would appeal the decision.
Speaking following the verdict Nic an Bhaird said: “I’m disgusted. If I have to go to the European Court of Human Rights I will go there.
“I don’t care how many years it takes until justice is done. I have no confidence in the British judicial system.”