JAKE MAC SIACAIS
Director of Forbairt Feirste.
Last Friday, 16/2/18, there was renewed hope and huge speculation in the media that a deal around Irish Language legislation was imminent. By Monday 19th February, even as the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach arrived in Belfast, doubts had crept in. Unionist fury at any concessions on the rights of Irish speakers was at fever pitch. By Wednesday the leader of the DUP in a tweet announced that this phase of the talks was over.
There has been a lot in the media in recent days outlining the deal which was agreed and then repudiated by the DUP under pressure from the Orange Order and other hardline unionists. The talks are however not finished and both Sinn Fein and the Dup say they will return to negotiations. It is hard to see how these talks can proceed given such bad faithe from the DUP.
So with the Stormont talks in the North of Ireland facing into a critical make or break phase over the the Belfast Gaeltacht (Irish Speaking Area) Development Agency, Forbairt Feirste, has issued an open letter to all the main talks participants asking that an urgent fact finding delegation visit the Gaeltacht Quarter in an effort to ensure that the issue of the rights of Irish Language speakers is dealt with in a non-partisan way based on a sound knowledge of the issues which face Irish Language speakers on a daily basis. Much lazy journalism has posited the debate around this issue in terms of the Irish Language “holding up” progress on issues such as the health and education crises. Nothing could be further from the truth and this tired line bears no serious scrutiny.
No one realistically envisages the current All Party Talks, which are in crisis over issues of rights, including Langauge rights, lasting beyond the end of February. Anything beyond that would surely put the final nail in the coffin of a political process which has currently ran out of road and which has ran out of all credibility. The issue of an Irish Language Act is a demand of the Irish Language community not of any political party. Across the board Irish Language Activists have given a huge welcome to the public support for such an act from Sinn Féin, the SDLP, the Alliance Party the Green Party and People Before profit and have demanded that their be no backsliding on these commitments by any of these parties. Language rights for our fellow indigenous languages in Wales and Scotland are already well established and our fellow Irish Speakers in the Southof Ireland enjoy similar protection.
In the letter issued today, January 31st, by Forbairt Feirste chairperson, Pilib Ó Ruanaidh, and addressed to The Irish Tánaiste (Deputy Prime Minister) Simon Coveney and to Karen Bradley MP, the British Secretary of State ( both of whose Governemnts are co-guarantors of the Good Friday and St Andrews Agreements) Mr Ó Ruanaidh notes: “How the issue of Irish Language rights is addressed should be clearly informed by a sound knowledge of the everyday issues facing those whose first choice of langauge, in education, business, home life and public life, is Irish.”
Below is an English Language translation of the full text of Pilib Ó Ruanaidh’s letter:
An open letter to Simon Coveney TD Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs; Karen Bradley Mp British Secretary of State Northern Ireland and the heads of the five main local Political Parties ( Courtesy Translation)
Simon CoveneyTD, Karen Bradley MP, Arlene Foster MLA, Michelle O Neill MLA, Colm Eastwood MLA, Robin Swann MLA and Naoimi Long MLA
Belfast BT4 3SH
All of us are cognisant of the difficulties we face in finding and negotiating sustainable arrangements which respect the rights and ensure the future of our entire community. There are clear challenges but also clear opportunities in the few short weeks ahead to ensure progress.
The status of the Irish Language and the rights of Irish speakers are among the key areas of focus in the current talks and whilst a lot has been said on the subject there is doubtless a lot of misunderstanding and at times downright misinformation on these issues.
Forbairt Feirste, the Gaeltacht Quarter Development Agency believe in taking opportunities for building goodwill and mutual understanding and would therefore like to invite Karen Bradley Mp and Simon CoveneyTD to organise a fact-finding delegation to visit the Gaeltacht Quarter at our invitation. The purpose of the visit would be to both acquaint the main talks participants with some of the work that is ongoing in the Gaeltacht Quarter and to allow for us to engage in a positive exchange of views on what we can do to fulfil our mutual aim of ensuring there are no cold places in our society.
We greatly welcome the fact that all of the talks participants without exception have indicated a desire to see the issue of rights for Irish Speakers addressed and resolved. Indeed three of the main parties have in private meetings with us and in public committed to ensuring the enactment legislation protecting the rights of Irish speakers. How these issues are addressed should be clearly informed by a sound knowledge of the everyday issues facing those whose first choice of langauge, in education, business, home life and public life, is Irish.
We appreciate that her focus remains on restoring sustainable devolved institutions and wish everyone involved in these endeavours all the best. Our focus is on ensuring that we ensure that demonstrable need is catered for. We are also focussed on maximising opportunities for mutual understanding based on respect and grounded in every day realities. Our invitation for her and her counterpart Simon Coveney to organise a fact-finding visit to the Gaeltacht Quarter still stands and if the Secretary of State and/or the Tánaiste feel this would be useful we are keen to facilitate such a fact-finding visit.seriously and is availed off. We look forward to hearing from you at your very earliest convenience.
Pilib Ó Ruanaidh
Forbairt Feirste “
Let’s hope that this initiative by Irish Language speakers is recieved in the spirit in which it is issued and that it can be assessed on its merits as a genuine attempt to inform discussions around this issue and can assist in ensuring that there are no cold places in our society for Anyone. We hope it can go some small way towards removing some of the toxcitiy which has been a hallmark of what to date has been an at times ill-informed debate.
In a reply to our letter British Secretary of State Karen Bradley has said: “It is clear that issues of respect for, and the promotion of, minority languages in Northern Ireland are important to many people from all communities. It is essential, therefore, that fully functioning, power-sharing devolved government at Stormont is re-established as this offers the most secure, stable way of devising and implementing an agreed way forward on issues such as the Irish language.
Given this, the Secretary of State’s immediate focus continues to be on working with the Northern Ireland political parties, and the Irish Government, to secure the restoration of inclusive, stable, devolved government in Northern Ireland, so unfortunately she will be unable to commit to a visit at this time.”
Thanking her for her letter Forbairt Feirste have responded saying: “We appreciate that the focus remains on restoring sustainable devolved institutions and wish everyone involved in these endeavours all the best. Our focus is on ensuring that we ensure that demonstrable need is catered for. We are also focussed on maximising opportunities for mutual understanding based on respect and grounded in every day realities. Our invitation for her and her counterpart Simon Coveney to organise a fact-finding visit to the Gaeltacht Quarter still stands and if the Secretary of State and/or the Tánaiste feel this would be useful we are keen to facilitate such a fact-finding visit.”
Go n-éirí an Bóthar linn ( May the roads rise to meet us)