The DUP Minister for Culture in the Six County Assembly, Nelson McCausland is to bring forward a “draft strategy on minority languages” by the end of March as part of the outworking of the Hillsborough Agreement, the Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said.
One element of the plan will be to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language as set out in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement.
Mr Adams has also revealed that following discussions with the British Prime Minister on the need to continue resources for building the Irish language infrastructure and the arts, Mr Brown has committed his government to carry on funding the Irish Language Broadcasting Fund for a further four years after 2011. London will also provide resources to continue the development of Irish language infrastructure, bringing the extended funding for the Broadcast Fund to 20 million pounds.
“Given that this is not coming out of the Executive budget this is a welcome development,” Mr Adams said.
“Martin McGuinness and other republican Ministers on the Executive have engaged at the British-Irish conference on this issue and with the Scottish Executive. I have engaged with Paul Murphy, the Welsh Secretary of State and Martin and I have talked at length with Gordon Brown on Irish language issues. We will continue all these discussions with the two governments and the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies. Bairbre de Brun MEP will also continue with her work in the European Parliament.”
Mr Adams also vowed to secure the abolition of the 1737 Administration of Justice Act, which bans the use of Irish in the courts.
“Our position in relation to the British government is straight forward. The 1737 Act must go. The British government, as part of the agreement at St. Andrews, undertook to introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and to work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. Sinn Fein has continued to hold the British government to that commitment.
“It was our negotiating team which won this in the first instance and we have no intention of giving up on it.
“At Hillsborough we agreed with the DUP to set up a working group to deal with outstanding elements of the St Andrews agreement. The First and Deputy First Minister will provide a report to the Executive by the end of February detailing the level of progress made on each outstanding matter. This includes the Irish language.
“They will also seek Executive approval to set up a Working Group to recommend on how progress could be made on those matters which have not been acted upon. Within four weeks of the Working Group’s initial report the First and Deputy First Minister will agree a programme to effect completion of the agreed conclusions of the Working Group.”
Mr Adams said Martin McGuinness had also raised Irish language issues directly with DUP leader and First Minister Peter Robinson.
“In the meantime Sinn Fein Ministers will continue to support and introduce gaeilge-friendly policies in their departments, including bi-lingual services and signage, and the DUP is in no doubt about the need also for the Executive to deliver for everyone, including gaeilgeoiri [Irish speakers]”
Mr Adams also said Sinn Fein’s Minister of Education Caitriona Ruane was doing “pioneering work” in respect of Irish medium education.
“An Gaelscolaiocht [the Irish language school system] has been put on a more secure footing across the north as it continues to expand and develop. At a time of falling enrollments and school closures across the education sector parents in increasing numbers are choosing Irish language schooling for their children.
“There are now 23 freestanding schools, 12 units and plans to develop more schools and nurseries over the next 18 months. Millions of pounds of funding and capital investment has been secured for the sector.”
Mr Adams said “the work goes on”, but urged wider involvement to create a bi-lingual society.
“This has to include services that ensure cradle to the grave opportunities to live through the medium of Irish, if that is your choice.
There is plenty of room for everyone in this endeavour. It should truly be a national effort. Bigi linn [Join Us].”