Argazkia: BBC

    On December 6, 2022, one of the historic demands of the republican movement in Northern Ireland was fulfilled: from that date Ireland’s own language has become official, for the first time, in the six northern counties.

    A curiosity: the new law about the Irish language was approved by the Parliament in London, not by the one of the North of Ireland. London took over the governance of Northern Ireland in 2021, when the situation in the Six Counties became ungovernable, as the main unionist party (DUP) repeatedly blocked the composition of a new government, which it had to share with Sinn Féin. Therefore, the new language law (“Identity and Language Bill”) was processed and approved by London.

    The new Irish Language Act largely follows the model of the 1993 Welsh Language Standardisation Act.

    On May 21, 2022, the streets of Belfast witnessed a large demonstration for the official status of the language. This, in addition to the criticism that the Committee of Experts of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages directed at the United Kingdom for not taking measures in favour of Irish (the United Kingdom ratified said Charter in 2001) accelerated London’s approval of the official status of the language.

    The new law has won approval not only from Sinn Féin and the SLPD, but also from the Alliance Party and the Green Party. On the contrary, the unionist parties have strongly rejected it. DUP leader Arlene Foster, for example, quipped that it made more sense in Northern Ireland to pass a pro-Polish language law than a pro-Irish language one, because in the Six Counties there are more Polish speakers than Irish speakers.

    About 4% of the population in Northern Ireland speaks Irish. However, only 0.2% say they speak it daily. Before the partition of Ireland (in 1921), however, there were still communities in the North of Ireland whose habitual language was Irish.

    The associations in support of the language are happy, but they are wary until they see the development of the new law. Conradh na Gaeilge President Paula Melvin spoke bluntly: “The new law will have to meet international standards for language law. We will continue fighting until we see that the contents of the new law are fulfilled. Given the experience we have with the British government, we can never take anything for granted.” And she added this: “Either way, this law is not our ultimate goal.”

    It remains to be seen if the new law ends the historical marginalisation suffered by Irish-speakers in the six Northern counties … And also to what extent it is developed so that public services officers are capable of serving citizens through both languages.