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Last Updated: Tuesday, 28 September, 2004, 11:23 GMT 12:23 UK
Ministers unveil new Gaelic law
Gaelic road sign
The bill points the way to a secure future for the language
New legislation which aims to protect Scotland's native tongue has been unveiled by ministers.

The law would give Gaelic official recognition and require all public bodies to have a language policy.

Councils would have to take account of any guidance on Gaelic-medium education from the Brd na Gidhlig quango.

Education Minister Peter Peacock said the bill, which was beefed up following public consultation, would make it easier for people to use Gaelic.

The proposals were unveiled almost a year after a draft bill was published.

The Scottish Executive hopes that it will complete its parliamentary process by summer 2005.

We listened carefully to the points raised in the consultation and, as a result, have strengthened the bill
Peter Peacock
Education Minister
The changes are aimed at securing a future for Gaelic, which is spoken by fewer than 60,000 people across the country, according to the last census.

Mr Peacock said he was confident that the bill would safeguard the language's place in Scottish society.

"Today is an historic day for Gaelic as we move to secure the status of the language in Scotland, ensuring that rather than dying out, as some have gloomily predicted, it has a long-term future," he said.

"The publication of the bill is just one reason for optimism - the fact that Gaelic-medium education is flourishing and the number of young speakers is rising also gives us real hope.

"This is a vital piece of legislation and it's crucial that we get it right.

Public bodies

"That's why we listened carefully to the points raised in the consultation and, as a result, have strengthened the bill."

He said it would make it easier for people to use Gaelic and ensure that public bodies have to take the needs of Gaelic speakers into account.

"I believe this bill will leave the Gaelic language well-equipped to meet the demands of the 21st century and ensure it prospers for years to come," he added.

Brd na Gidhlig chairman Duncan Ferguson described it as a "momentous day for Gaelic".

The bill was also welcomed by a number of organisations with Gaelic interests.

'Message of inspiration'

The unveiling of the new legislation comes a day after Prince Charles expressed his support for the battle to save the language from extinction.

On a visit to Scotland's only Gaelic college on the Isle of Skye, Sabhal Mr Ostaig, he said it was a miracle the language was still being spoken at all.

The Prince, whose Scottish title is the Duke of Rothesay, said: "If Gaelic dies in Scotland, it dies in the world.

"If it flourishes here it sends out a message of inspiration and optimism.

"Scotland faces many challenges as well as great opportunities. Scottish life is greatly enriched by the Gaelic dimension. The miracle is that Gaelic has survived at all."

However the Scottish National Party dismissed the legislation as "a pass the buck bill".

SNP Central Scotland MSP Alex Neil, a member of Holyrood's cross-party group on Gaelic, claimed the bill's changes effectively removed direct ministerial responsibility for policy on the language.

He said: "It is absolutely pointless to have a bill that does not clearly illustrate how we will save the Gaelic language, and that is what we have.

"We must identify how we will fill the shortage of teachers of Gaelic and how we can best support the few remaining Gaelic speaking communities that remain.

"The SNP has a policy of supporting more Gaelic medium education as the appropriate way forward for promoting the language, but again, the executive's bill fails to focus adequately on this particular area."


SEE ALSO:
Prince backs Gaelic's fightback
27 Sep 04  |  Scotland
Gaelic secondary school planned
21 May 04  |  Scotland
Sign of the times for Highlands
08 Mar 04  |  Scotland
Plans to protect Gaelic
10 Oct 03  |  Scotland
Gaelic first for parents
03 Jun 03  |  Scotland
MSPs approve Gaelic bill
06 Mar 03  |  Scotland


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