Sinn Féin Councillor Kevin Campbell has welcomes Derry City & Strabane Council’s official backing for the introduction of an Irish Language Act as detailed in the Good Friday and St. Andrews Agreements.
Colr. Campbell said the rights which will be enshrined in an Acht Na Gaeilge “threaten no-one” and “humiliate no-one.”
He was speaking as he tabled a motion calling on the council to recognise “the need to protect the indigenous language of this island” at the monthly meeting in the Guildhall.
Colr. Campbell said there were 563 children locally who receive their education in Irish which, he said, was a language that was older than the Roman Empire.
“There is a clear and growing demand for an Irish Language Act from across public sectors and political parties,” he said. “The Irish language is an integral part of the lives of a growing number of people who use it daily and their rights should be protected.”
DUP Colr. David Ramsey, however, said that Ulster Scots was also an indigenous language and accused Sinn Fein of hypocrisy saying they were supporting scrapping the council’s trilingual policy “that will remove Ulster Scots.”
He claimed that the Irish language was being politicised and said that, far from discrimination, £200m has been spent on supporting the Irish language since 2010.
Colr. Campbell said the trilingual policy matter was actually at committee stage and a decision had not been taken.
SDLP Colr. Tina Gardiner said her party had recently called for the British Irish Inter-governmental Conference to meet to break the political deadlock and bring forward a package of legislation.
Speaking at the council meeting she said this package would include the Irish Language Act. “Unfortunately Sinn Fein went against this motion last month,” she said.
Colr. Gardiner said that the Irish language “goes to the very core of the problem in the north: parity of esteem,” adding that both Scotland and Wales have laws to protect their languages, while Irish also has special recognition also in the republic.
Speaking about previous commitments in the Agreements, Independent Councillor Paul Gallagher claimed: “Never, ever, ever believe a promise by the British. They have been breaking promises in Ireland for 800 years.”
Sinn Fein Colr. Karina Carlin said the DUP’s “almost allergic reaction” to an Irish Language Act was “very, very regrettable.”
Independent Colr. Gary Donnelly said he was happy to support the motion as a father of one of the 563 children being educated through the medium of Irish. “It’s the right thing to do,” he said.
Mayor Maolíosa McHugh said the language was there for all, adding that, bar the odd Christmas card returned with an X through it, his experience as Mayor had been that in 98 per cent of cases the public acknowledge and respect the Irish language.
A total of 28 councillors backed Colr. Campbell’s proposal, with nine voting against it.