A battle a day for Irish speakers
A battle a day for Irish speakers

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has accused unionists of “irrational hostility” to the Irish language and Irish speakers.

Mr Adams was speaking at the Belfast Assembly in a tense debate on Irish language provision and education.

The comments came amid unionist anger over the award of funding to support Irish-medium broadcasting and programming in the north of Ireland.

The offer was agreed by the British government during recent talks at Downing Street over the nomination of DUP leader Peter Robinson as First Minister.

Ulster Unionists angrily claimed the funding discriminated against the Ulster-Scots dialect. However, the DUP dismissed the move as “a fig leaf” concession to save Sinn Féin embarrassment over what it said was its success in “binning” a promised Irish Language Act.

Adams denied the Irish Language Act, intended to bolster the rights of Gaelic speakers, was dead.

“This funding is all part of the bigger picture of an Irish Language Act and although the funding is small it will be put to very good use,” he said. Mr Adams was speaking at the Culturlann Irish culture centre in west Belfast this week.

“Securing the funding was nothing more than housekeeping which should have been done by the former Culture Minister, but it wasn’t, so we went straight to London in support of our ongoing campaign for equal rights for Irish speakers.

“The programmes this money will fund will improve the quality of life of the Irish-speaking community but this is only one aspect of the efforts to ensure that quality of life.”

The battle over the future of the Irish language in the north took a new twist at the Belfast Assembly this week, when the DUP blasted a plan for a new Irish medium primary school in Derry.

Sinn Féin’s Minister of Education, Caitriona Ruane, approved the school despite concerns over declining student numbers across the North.

The DUP’s Lord Morrow claimed that Ms Ruane had “sectarianised the Irish language”.

“You may try and ram it down the throats of unionists - but you are not winning hearts and minds,” he said.

“You are alienating people you claim you have some respect for.”

Ms Ruane told the DUP that many of its contributions hid the fact that they were unwilling to embrace change in education.

“More and more children are seeking the benefits of Irish medium education -- which is currently the fastest-growing sector of education,” she said.

Rounding on the DUP for its attacks, Mr Adams added: “Some members feel there is a need to pretend that they are in charge of these institutions and that they can stop a Sinn Féin Minister from fulfilling her duties.

“They have chosen the education of our children as the issue to contest this matter.

“They are making a huge mistake.

“The future of these institutions is based upon the ability of all of the parties to work together in the common good; making necessary compromises and agreements, based upon equality and inclusivity.

“That is the only way these institutions will survive.”

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© 2008 Irish Republican News