There are fears Irish politicians have again been tricked by false British promises on the Irish language, fifteen years after Irish speakers in the North first received a commitment of action to protect their rights.
With another deadline fading into the past, fifty Irish language and community organisations have now signed an open letter calling on British Direct Ruler Brandon Lewis to “immediately move” Irish language legislation at Westminster.
A failure by the British government to introduce a bill before Christmas raises the risk of it becoming an issue in next year’s Stormont election, according to Irish language campaigner Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh, spokesman for An Dream Dearg.
“The British government gave a very clear, unambiguous, and unconditional commitment in June of this year that if Stormont could not or would not progress Irish language legislation by the end of September that they would intervene and implement the legislation at Westminster in October,” Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said.
At the time of the June deal to restore Stormont, Sinn Féin’s Mary Lou McDonald welcomed the British promise as “historic”, while the party’s deputy leader in the North, Michelle O’Neill, said in late October she was confident the legislation would be introduced “within days”.
However, the legislation still has not been moved, nor does it appear in [the Westminster] schedule for the coming weeks.
“We are almost into December, approaching the Christmas recess, and there is a very clear and impending danger that if this rolls on into the New Year and into an election [campaign], it almost de facto becomes an election issue,” Mr O Tiarnaigh warned.
He said the New Decade, New Approach agreement was originally intended to be implemented within 100 days.
“Six hundred days have now passed,” he said.
“We are very much back at square one here. We have the DUP continuing to veto and frustrate progress, we have the British government making an agreement - like the agreement they made in 2006 at St Andrews - and we have no resolution. We have no implementation and the Irish language community are left out in the cold once more asking the question: ‘Where are our rights?’.”
Representatives of the groups that signed the open letter to Mr Lewis gathered at Belfast’s Cultúrlan on Tuesday to highlight their concerns.
The signatories said in the letter that any further delay in progressing language rights would be “deeply concerning and unjustified.”
“You made a promise, and we expect you to honour it.”
The letter adds: “All deadlines to date have passed, and still we wait. Community confidence is now incredibly low.
“The days of Irish speakers being treated as second class citizens here are now over.”
The letter was signed by the following groups:
An Droichead Teo., Aonach Mhacha, Conradh na Gaeilge Boirche Iochtar, Cairde Teo., Cairde Turas, Cairde Uí Néil, Ciste Infheistíochta na Gaeilge, Coiste Forbartha Charn Tóchair, Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, Comhaltas Uladh, Conradh na Gaeilge, Craobh an Iúir, Gaelaras Mhic Ardgháil, Craobh na Lorgan, Craobh Ard Eoin, Croí Éanna, Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich, Cultúrlann Uí Chanáin, Cumann Chluain Árd, Cumann Cultúrtha Mhic Reachtain, Cumann Gaelach Leath Chathail, Cumann Gaelach QUB, Cumann Gaelach UU, Cumann Óige na bhFál, Cumann Óige Uachtar Chluanaí, Cumann Óige Uí Dochartaigh, Cumann Rothaíochta Loch Lao, An Dream Dearg, Foram na nÓg, Forbairt Feirste, Gael Linn, Gael na Glinntí, Gaelchursaí, Gaelphobal Ard Mhacha Theas, Glór an Ghleanna, Glór Mhachaire Fíolta, Glór na Móna, Glór na nGael, Glór na Speiríní, Glór Uachtar Tíre, Ionad na Fuiseoige, Ionad Uíbh Eachach, Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaíochta, CLG Laochra Loch Lao, Misneach, Obair, Oireachtas na Gaeilge, Pobal ar a’n Iúl, Raidió Fáilte, Seacht , Teach Mhamó, Turas, Tús Nua.