Thousands turn out for Irish language rally in Belfast

An estimated 12,000 people attended the march calling for Gaeilge to be given equal status with English

Thousands turn out for Irish language rally in Belfast

Image: An Dream Dearg / Facebook

Thousands have taken part in a rally in Belfast today calling for the introduction of new laws to protect the Irish language in the North.

An estimated 12,000 people attended the march calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act, giving Gaeilge equal status with English.

The issue is currently one of the stumbling blocks affecting negotiations aimed at restoring a power-sharing government to the region.

Irish language campaigning network, An Dream Dearg organised this afternoon's demonstration, insisting the legislation was promised as part of the St Andrew’s Agreement over ten years ago.

The agreement - signed in 2007 - saw a return to power-sharing, with Sinn Féin agreeing to recognise the Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI).

Irish Language Act

Should it eventually be accepted, the act is expected to see Irish used by public bodies, the courts, on street signs and in the Stormont Assembly.

The Democratic Unionist Party has been staunchly opposed to the introduction of an Irish Language Act with party leader Arlene Foster making her now infamous “crocodile” quip at the outset of the last election campaign in February.

At the time Ms Foster insisted that more people in Northern Ireland spoke Polish than Irish and warned against making concessions to Sinn Féin, arguing “If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more."

The party appears to have softened its stance somewhat in the months since - after Sinn Féin secured its best-ever performance at the Assembly elections, cutting the DUPs 10-seat advantage to one.

Cultural tolerance

Earlier this month, Ms Foster suggested she was open to introducing protections for the language provided all cultures in the region are fully respected.

"We have been in negotiations for some time and we have been putting forward that we need to respect all cultures, including the Ulster Scots, the Orange, the British culture,” she said.

"If there are to be moves forward in terms of cultural tolerance and respect then it has to be in the context of doing that, and we are very clear in relation to that.”

Comprehensive and widespread support

Addressing the demonstration this afternoon, An Dream Dearg spokesperson, Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin said there is “comprehensive and widespread support for a rights-based Irish language Act.”

“All those who believe in diversity, language rights and human rights have come together as we demand that this state acts now and implements an Irish language act that was promised over ten years ago in the St Andrews Agreement,” he said. 

“There is no doubt that the Irish language is now at the very centre of the current political crisis in the north and An Dream Dearg are stating clearly that no political institutions or future political arrangement are tenable in the absence of a rights based Irish language act.”

He said a “clear majority” of newly elected Stormont Assembly members support the introduction of the act - as well as the United Nations and the Council of Europe.