British Government criticised for failing Irish language speakers in Northern Ireland
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British Government criticised for failing Irish language speakers in Northern Ireland

THE Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland has been described as a hostage of sectarian politics, with the British Government being critiscised for a lack of dialogue on the issue.

A report by the Council of Europe has outlined the progress and failings of the Government in its approach to ethnic, language and cultural minorities.

The Council of Europe is the continent's leading human rights organisation and includes foreign affairs ministers from every member state.

The report, published this month, said the British Government should “engage in a dialogue to create the political consensus” across all political parties in Northern Ireland to bring in the Irish Language Act.

“The situation in Northern Ireland is characterised by political tensions in governing bodies [which] often prevent smooth governance,” it says.

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According to the report, the political tensions in Northern Ireland are due to a lack of dialogue and by the continuing lack of an updated legal framework for equality.

Sectarian politics and a “static interpretation of the notion of good relations" prevents the adoption of an Irish Language Bill as, although the issue of language has become less sensitive in society, it’s still perceived as an instrument to divide the two main communities in the North.

The “static interpretation” has also led to gridlock in the Irish power-sharing arrangement which has resulted in the lack of progress on the Irish Language Act, pushing the rights of national and ethnic minorities to the fringes in Northern Ireland.

The lack of language rights of people in Northern Ireland is also cited in the report as "emblematic of a wider practice of sectarian-driven policy making that appears to dominate the political process.”

The Advisory Committee for the Council of Europe also noted that the protection and promotion of minority languages across Britain were dealt with differently.

"Support for and progress on the Scots and Gaelic languages are visible in Scotland, mainly as regards education, culture and media.

"Serious efforts are also being made in Wales, to develop the use of Welsh in the administration and in schools, while gridlock appears to best describe the situation of the Irish and Ulster Scots languages in Northern Ireland."

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Sinn Féin MLA for North Belfast Carál Ní Chuilín has said that the latest report from the Council of Europe once again highlights the British Government's failures to the Irish Language community.

"The British Government have once again been internationally criticised for their neglect of the Irish Language and for their lack of action to secure the rights of Irish speakers.

"The report rightly points out the British Government's shortcomings on issues of legislation, strategy and provision.

"We support the call in this report, and from the Irish Language Community, that the British Government must take immediate action.

"The British Government made a commitment to bring forward an Irish Language Act and has failed so far to honour its agreement.

"This failure was compounded by the DUP blocking an Irish Language Act at the Executive and an Irish Language Strategy, a Programme for Government commitment.

"If the current political talks are to have any value then agreements need to be implemented.

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"Legislation for an Irish Language Act should be brought forward now."

The Council of Europe have recommended that the British Government make a renewed effort to develop Irish education and language teaching in schools and "identify pragmatic and flexible solutions" to meeting the demands of the national and ethnic minorities with bilingual signage.

The Council also said the Government must adopt "appropriate legislation protecting and promoting the Irish language" and to take measures to progress on language rights of persons belonging to the Irish minority.