I am firmly of the view that an Irish Language Act should be introduced in Northern Ireland. All parties to the Good Friday Agreement recognised the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity in Northern Ireland. In the St Andrews Agreement, the British government committed to introducing an Irish Language Act and to working with the Northern Ireland Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.
Since the restoration of the devolved Institutions on 8 May 2007, the question of an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland is a devolved matter and is the responsibility of the Northern Ireland Executive. Last year the Northern Ireland Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure Ms. Caral Ní Chuilín MLA launched a consultation process on strategies for the Irish language and Ulster Scots. Inputs from the consultation process are being considered.
The matter of an Irish Language Act is not discussed at the North South Ministerial Council as it is outside the agreed agenda for the Council. My colleagues the Minister for Arts, Heritage & the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan T.D. and Minister of State Dinny McGinley T.D. have ongoing discussions at meetings of the North-South Ministerial Council on the work of the all-island Language Body (comprising Foras na Gaeilge and the Ulster-Scots Agency) with Ministers Carál Ní Chuilín MLA and Jonathan Bell MLA.
In November 2012 I visited An Chultúrlann in Belfast which is a very impressive Irish language and cultural centre. I had the opportunity to meet with some of the city’s leading Irish language activists and to hear their concerns regarding the promotion of the Irish language including their critical views on the delay in legislating for an Irish language act for Northern Ireland. Officials in my Department maintain regular and ongoing contact with the Irish language community in Northern Ireland including those involved in cross community Irish language activity.
I will continue to press in my discussions with the Northern Ireland Executive the urgent need to address this issue and to legislate for an Irish Language Act. Officials in my Department will continue to monitor this matter in their ongoing contacts with the Northern Ireland Office.