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Irish Language

Volume 502: debated on Thursday 10 December 2009

To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland with reference to Annex B of the St. Andrews Agreement of October 2006, what steps the Government plans to take to fulfil the commitment to introduce legislation on the Irish language, reflecting on the experience of Wales and the Republic of Ireland. (304265)

Annex B of the St. Andrews Agreement committed the Government to introducing an Irish Language Act, reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland, and to work with the Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

The Government took forward this commitment through the publication of two consultation papers in December 2006 and March 2007 setting out their proposed approach to an Irish Language Act. The latter included draft clauses.

Following the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly on 8 May 2007, the responsibility in this area passed to the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive.

The Northern Ireland Executive was placed under a statutory duty, by the Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006, to adopt a strategy to enhance and protect the development of Irish language. The Executive has a similar statutory duty to enhance and develop the Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture.

The Government recognise the close connection between language and identity issues, and understand the concern of individuals to see that the language in which they were brought up, or which is used in their communities, is respected. They therefore believe that these statutory duties are of particular importance and encourage the Executive to complete and publish their strategies.

The Government reaffirmed, at the British-Irish Council on 13 November 2009, their commitment to work with the Executive to support the development and implementation of strategies for Irish language and Ulster Scots and are continuing to work with other Administrations through the British-Irish Council to share best practice on the enhancement and protection of minority languages.

In addition, the Government are seeking views in their consultation paper “A Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland: Next Steps” on what additional legislative protections in relation to the Irish language might be included in a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights.

Work is also being taken forward in relation to Irish language broadcasting. The British and Irish Governments hope shortly to sign a memorandum of understanding which will contain commitments to the continuing widespread availability of TG4 in Northern Ireland following the digital switchover, and to exploring the increased availability of RTE in Northern Ireland.