Irish becomes official language in Northern Ireland for the first time
Irish has become an official language in Northern Ireland for the first time.
The UK Government said last year that if the devolved parliament at Stormont could not or would not progress the legislation it would intervene and implement it from Westminster.
That has now happened as the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill, which passed through the Commons and Lords in October, received royal assent from King Charles.
The Irish language legislation was based on the model of the 1993 Welsh Language Act introduced in Wales.
The legislation includes a commitment to:
- Provide official recognition of the status of the Irish language
- Establish the office of an Irish language commissioner and an Ulster Scots commissioner
- Repeal the Penal Law-era Administration of Justice (Language) Act 1737 which forbade the use of Irish in the courts.
Thousands of protesters marched through Belfast in May calling for the introduction of the legislation.
Legislative protections for the Irish language in Northern Ireland were a key plank of the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored powersharing in January 2020 after a three-year stalemate.
The legislation had however opposed by some Unionists, with the 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”.
But Paula Melvin, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, welcomed the move as “historic” and called for the new law to be “fully enacted and implemented in practice”.
“This bill, however, is not our final destination,” she told the Irish Times. “But let’s be clear, we now immediately enter the implementation phase of this legislation. Painful experience with the British Government has taught us to take nothing for granted.”
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