THE BRITISH government will today introduce legislation to officially recognise and protect the Irish language in Northern Ireland for the first time.
The introduction of the legislation had been expected to be introduced before the end of the last assembly mandate.
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis confirmed the news today in a statement.
"The introduction of this Bill represents a significant milestone, it just in the continued delivery of New Decade, New Approach, but in laying down a new cultural framework for the people of Northern Ireland," he said.
"The legislation is carefully balanced, as negotiated by all parties, to ensure everyone in Northern Ireland benefits.
"Not only will the legislation faithfully deliver on the measures within New Decade, New Approach, it will also, importantly, ensure the principles of respect and tolerance, as stated in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement, continue to be realised."
The legislation is expected to be introduced in the House of Lords first.
It was originally a commitment made in the New Decade, New Approach agreement which led to the restoration of the Stormont Assembly in January 2020 after three years in suspension.
The legislation will also legislate for Ulster-Scots.
Tweeting today, First Minister-elect Michelle O'Neill said the day was "historic".
"Today belongs to the Irish language community, it is your resilience & dedication that has ensured we have reached this monumental milestones
"Acht Gaeilge must now be delivered into law without further delay."
This is an historic day, as Acht Gaeilge has been tabled at Westminster
Today belongs to the Irish language community, it is your resilience & dedication that has ensured we have reached this monumental milestone
Acht Gaeilge must now be delivered into law without further delay pic.twitter.com/LwEc1cC8wF
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) May 25, 2022
The Bill will amend the Northern Ireland Act to allow for the establishment of three new public authorities in Northern Ireland, including an Office of Identity and Cultural Express to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity, alongside Commissioners on the Irish language and the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition.
The Irish language will be granted official status in Northern Ireland, will be protected by the new Commissioner who will be tasked with developing best practices standards for public authorities to follow.
In addition to the legislation, the UK Government has announced the delivery of two of its own New Decade, New Approach commitments. The government is officially giving recognition to Ulster Scots as a National Minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, a status already accorded to Irish, Welsh and Scots, and since 2014, Cornish, among others.
The government will also provide £4 million to An Ciste Infheistíochta Gaeilge, the Irish Language Investment Fund.