The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Maria Eagle) has made the following Ministerial Statement.
In the St Andrews agreement, government made a commitment to introduce an Irish language Bill for Northern Ireland, reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and to work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language. My department issued a consultation paper on Irish language legislation on 13 December 2006, with a closing date of 2 March 2007. The consultation attracted a significant number of responses. Of the 668 substantive responses received, 625 supported the introduction of legislation. In addition, 1376 postcards supporting legislation were received by my department, and an advertisement placed in the press by the Irish language group, POBAL, attracted 800 signatures. My department also received a petition from POBAL with 2,500 signatures.
The consultation showed a pronounced divergence of views across the communities in Northern Ireland about the benefits of Irish language legislation. In addition, during the consultation the suggestion was made that the process would be more meaningful if the consultation was based on draft legislation. My ministerial colleagues and I see merit in this proposal and today we are publishing a further consultation on Irish language legislation with draft indicative clauses. The further consultation will last for 12 weeks, closing on 5 June 2007.