Rally to bring Irish language rights to heart of election
Rally to bring Irish language rights to heart of election


A major rally calling for the introduction of an Irish language act for the north is to be held in Belfast.

The protest, organised by campaign group An Dream Dearg, is scheduled for next weekend, Saturday May 20. Around 5,000 protesters are expected to take part, and buses have been organised from points across Ireland.

The issue of an Irish language act has proved one of the most divisive between Sinn Fein and the DUP as political talks to restore devolution stalled before Easter.

Campaigners have urged parties not to return to Stormont without legislation for an Irish language act.

Padraig O Tiarnaigh, from An Dream Dearg, said participants were being asked to dress in red, in keeping with the campaign slogan ‘Dearg le Fearg’ (red with anger).

The demonstration follows several protests by Irish language groups about the act, and cuts to bursaries and services, in recent months at locations across the north, including Stormont.

“The idea is to bring all of the previous protests together into one. There has been a group meeting every Wednesday night to organise things, put up posters, notify the Parades Commission,” said Mr O Tiarnaigh.

“Last week 13 Irish language schools across the north held a non-uniform day to raise funds for buses to bring people to the May 20 protest.

“As we have seen since Christmas the Irish language community is more organised than ever. Everyone is coming together to support the call for an Irish language act. This is the time to resolve it.”

Organisers are urging supporters to meet at the Culturlann on Falls Road in west Belfast at noon, before marching to City Hall where there will be speeches and a family fun day. A similar protest was held in April 2014.


Last week an announcement by DUP leader Arlene Foster that she wants to meet with Irish speakers was welcomed by language groups.

Mrs Foster said she intended to meet with Irish speakers “over the next short period of time” to “respect and better understand” the language and culture.

At the launch of the party’s Assembly election campaign in February, Mrs Foster had said the DUP would never agree to Sinn Fein demands for an Irish Language Act, adding: “If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more.”

The comments provoked a comedic, crocodile-themed campaign by language activists and was linked to increased support for SF among young voters in the February election.

More recently there have been conflicting signals from the DUP over its attitude to an Irish language act, with claims that Ms Foster might allow the move as part of an initiative “to respect all cultures, including the Ulster Scots [dialect], the Orange [the Orange Order], the British culture.”

However, DUP hardline Gregory Campbell on Tuesday insisted: “There will be no Irish language act. We have said that all along and that is what we are saying now.”

While cultivating a ‘softer’ image for the party, the election has also provoked many DUP figures to bang the tribal drum. Ballymena councillor John Carson said he will “continue to pray” that Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly will soon die and “face the one true judge, just like Marty [Martin McGuinness]”.

As part of a campaign to rally unionist hardliners to the polls, the anti-Catholic Orange Order has been hosting ‘election clinics’ in its halls.

SDLP East Derry John Dallat said it raises further questions over the Stormont administration’s continued funding for what he said was an “overtly sectarian” election campaign. The DUP, whose Minister approved the funding for the Orange Order, defended the campaign saying it would “boost participation in the democratic process”.

Arlene Foster said nationalism’s ‘electoral resurgence’ made it essential for the party to maximise its vote in next month’s Westminster election.

She said the election was “inevitably a referendum on Northern Ireland’s place in the UK” and that the assembly election in March had been a “wake-up call”.

“At this election we must sound the alarm bells and make sure that each and every person in Northern Ireland is aware of what is at stake - the choice is clear,” she said.

“This Westminster election gives unionism an early opportunity to put things right and to get back on the right track.”

Her party may also get an unexpected boost after Mike Nesbitt, leader of the rival unionist UUP, was photographed on the floor of a Belfast hotel, apparently unconscious.

The 59-year-old, the party’s candidate for the Strangford constituency, said: “I went to the hotel with three friends”. He said “things happened” but declined to elaborate. “I don’t want to say any more,” he said.

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