17,000 march in Northern Ireland to demand Irish language law on par with Wales
17,000 have marched through Belfast in Northern Ireland to demand an Irish language law on par with the 1993 Welsh Language Act introduced in Wales.
The campaign network An Dream Dearg – which translates as “the red group” – demanded “language recognition, respect and rights”, as well as calling on the UK Government to implement an Irish language law.
Campaigners are calling for legislation on the model of the Welsh Language Act passed by the UK Government in the 90s which would give Irish equal rights with English.
Chants by protesters included calling for an Irish Language Act and recitals of Irish language phrases such as “tír gan teanga, tír gan anam”, which translates as “a country without a language is a country without a soul”.
SIN É!! An Lá Dearg 2022! ⭕️👏
WOW!!! 17,000+ Gael demanding Irish Language rights! #AchtAnois
We are here to stay and demand language rights now!!!
— An Dream Dearg 🅾️🦸🏽♀️🦸🏻♂️ (@dreamdearg) May 21, 2022
Spokesman Conchur O Muadaigh said on Saturday they were “blown away” by the level of the support shown, and claimed that it was “the biggest Irish language demonstration of a generation”.
“An Dream Dearg has built a grassroots movement that has pushed the Irish language from the margins to the very centre of political and civic discourse both here and internationally, a movement that has spoken truth to power and ensured our community would no longer be treated as second class citizens, marginalised or excluded. Those days are gone for good.
“The Irish Language Act is long, long overdue. Our community cannot and must not be made to wait any longer for the same language rights enjoyed by citizens across these islands.”
The An La Dearg protest left from Culturlann McAdam O Fiaich and made its way to Belfast City Hall where speakers and singers addressed the crowds.
Five-year-old Dáithí Mac Gabhann was among those who addressed protesters at city hall. Other speakers included Katie Irvine, an Irish language youth worker from Glór na Móna, and Dónal Ó Cnaimhsí from the Gaoth Dobhair Gaeltacht in Co Donegal.
Tensions between Sinn Fein and the DUP over legislating for the Irish Language has in the past been one of the stumbling blocks which have left Northern Ireland without a ruling executive.
The UK Government’s Secretary of State has not ruled intervening on the issue from Westminster if there is no progress locally, as was done on the issue of granting abortions in Northern Ireland in 2020.
Irish Language rights have long been promised as part of agreements in the province, including the Good Friday Agreement, St Andrews agreement, and the more recent New Decade New Approach deal.
Legislation is however opposed by some Unionists, with TUV saying that an Irish Language Act would “open up employment opportunities exclusively to people who speak Irish, meaning that non-Irish speakers will be disadvantaged”.
Padaí Ó Tiarnaigh, an Irish language activist with campaign group An Dream Dearg, however, told Belfast Live that it was time to deliver on the long-promised legislation.
“The British Government themselves have committed time and time again to implementing these language rights and have called short,” he said.
“We have a very direct message for the British Government and indeed for the DUP and others who continue to veto and block language rights – that is we will continue to take to the streets, advocate and organise for our rights.
“Our community is no longer willing to be treated as second class citizens in our own country. It’s time our native and indigenous language was protected in law.”
The DUP last year promised to implement all outstanding aspects of the New Decade, New Approach deal, including Irish language legislation, but are now unwilling to join the executive due to the Northern Irland Protocol between the UK Government and the EU.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.