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Last Updated: Wednesday, 13 December 2006, 17:05 GMT
Irish language future is raised
Irish sign
The future role of Irish language in Northern Ireland is being discussed
The government is consulting people in Northern Ireland about whether Irish should be recognised as an official language.

Four options are being considered for the protection and promotion of the language in NI.

The consultation ends on 2 March and it is thought the assembly would legislate on the matter if there was devolution.

The government promised to create legislation encouraging the language as part of the St Andrews Agreement.

It has said it had no preference on which approach should be adopted.

The first option would see Irish become an official language in Northern Ireland like Welsh is in Wales, giving it an equal footing with English.

That would mean it would be used to a significant extent by state agencies, government and the justice system.

The second alternative would be to recognise Irish as having equal validity as English, but this would fall short of the status afforded to Welsh.

A third option would be to recognise Irish as a traditional, historic, indigenous or minority language, according it public recognition but again falling short of official and equal status.

The final plan would be to aspire that Irish would become an official language or have equal status in the future.


Sinn Fein's Caitriona Ruane said there should also be an Irish language commissioner for Northern Ireland.

"This would ensure that there was an end to the piecemeal approach and foot-dragging that has characterised the implementation of previous commitments to the Irish language," she said.

The SDLP's Dominic Bradley urged all Irish language groups to respond to the consultation.

"The Irish language community who want to use Irish as the language of daily life need the strongest possible guarantee of their rights enacted in law," he said.

However, the DUP's Nelson McCausland said Irish language legislation would be blocked by unionists in the assembly which was why there was such a short period of consultaion on it.

"In effect the government seems intent on rewarding and encouraging the intransigence of republicans," he said.

Martina Purdy reports from West Belfast

Irish language law takes effect
28 Mar 05 |  Europe

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