Oireachtas Joint and Select Committees
Thursday, 13 June 2013
Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement
Northern Ireland Irish Language Act: Discussion
Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na baill agus na rannpháirtithe eile atá i láthair don chruinniú seo. Tá deis againn inniu díospóireacht agus comhrá a bheith againn i dtaobh forbairt agus dul chun cinn na Gaeilge. I welcome members to the meeting and also the contributors to today's discussion. It is an opportunity to examine ways by which to develop the Irish language and, in particular, the outstanding issue of the implementation of the Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland. I hope the debate will be engaging. We are joined by a number of guests to discuss the issue. I welcome Ms Linda Ervine of the East Belfast Mission; Mr. Niall Ó Catháin, Glór na nGeal; Ms Janet Muller from POBAL; and Mr. Aodán Mac Póilín, Iontaobhas Ultach. I became more familiar with POBAL recently when I was in Belfast with Ms Muller at the launch of a document. She is very welcome to Dublin. POBAL is the Irish language umbrella organisation in the North. It was established in 1998 during a period of great political, social and economic change. Its work has since focused on advocacy and the issue of community development. It recently launched a document on the 15 years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, collating personal views of members of the Irish speaking community.
Ms Linda Ervine:
The East Belfast Mission is situation on the Lower Newtownards Road, within a loyalist community and close to the interface. Over the past few years, it has been the scene of serious rioting and this area has taken centre stage in the recent flag dispute. The mission is surrounded by paramilitary murals and a sea of union flags, yet it is also the home of five thriving Irish language classes a week, and since September last year, has registered over 100 people, including ten children, for Irish language lessons.
As well as teaching the language, East Belfast Mission has also engaged with the Protestant, Unionist, loyalist, PUL, community through a programme of education. To date, over 100 people have participated in workshops which explore the links between Protestants and the Irish language, with 68% of participants expressing a desire to know more about the language. Another 650 have attended presentations, with 100% of both workshops and presentations being received positively. We have not waved a magic wand and turned Protestants into Gaelgeoirí, we have simply given people the facts about Protestants and the Irish language, which allows them to accept the language as part of their heritage without compromising them politically or culturally.
For many from the Protestant community, there appears to be an innate interest in the language and when it is depoliticised and taken outside of the Nationalist, republican sphere, they naturally warm to it, realising that it was also the language of their forefathers. However, I will relate a recent event which illustrates the reaction of some Protestants to the language. On St. Patrick's Day this year, along with members of the congregation of East Belfast Mission who are also members of the Irish classes, I led a prayer in Irish during the morning worship service. The prayer was from the Church of Ireland's Leabhar na hUrnaí Coitinne and I asked the congregation to participate in the prayer by reciting "molaigí an Tiarna", "praise the Lord", after every couple of lines of the prayer. The prayer was put up on a PowerPoint slide at the front of the church in both Irish and English. I was informed a few weeks later that three women had left the church because they were so offended.
As someone who loves the Irish language, that seems to me ridiculous, but it is important to remember that many people from my community do not regard the Irish language in a positive way. Unfortunately, the only words of Irish which would be instantly recognisable to many Protestants in Northern Ireland, are "tiocfaidh ár lá". For them, it is not simply a language, but the language of the enemy, a republican weapon which they feel has been used against them. Interestingly, as part of my job as Irish language development officer, I have also come into contact with people from Nationalist backgrounds who have told me that they avoided learning Irish at school because they regarded it as too politicised and they believed that by learning Irish one was making a statement about one's own political viewpoint.
Despite my own desire to promote the Irish language and for the language to be protected through an official act of Parliament, I believe that to push through legislation which would give the language official status in Northern Ireland would be ill advised at this time and could be potentially harmful to the language. I fear that a negative reaction by the Protestant Unionist loyalist community to the Act could be exploited by certain politicians for their own political gain. Over time an effective programme of education and depoliticisation, along with events which seek to increase the popularity of the Irish language making it more mainstream and equally accessible to both communities, will neutralise the language and create an atmosphere which will allow members of the PUL community to take ownership of it. The likelihood of the Irish Language Act having the potential to become another contentious issue would greatly subside and the Act could then be passed with little or no opposition. Overall, I am in favour of the Act, but at present my opinion on the Act is "Yes it should be introduced, but not yet."
I have spoken to a number of key loyalist organisations and their responses are as follows: John Kyle, from the Progressive Unionist Party, said:
In my opinion the current political climate is not conducive to the introduction of an Irish Language Act. The events of the past year have heightened Unionist fears and increased hostility towards the Irish language. Considerable spadework needs to be done to persuade Unionists that they have any historical connection to the Irish language and that its promotion is not simply a means of replacing British culture with Irish.An unofficial spokesperson from the Ulster Volunteer Force said:
It would be unwise to try to introduce an Irish language Act at present due to the dissatisfaction and resentment of hard-line loyalists to what they perceive as the undermining of their position in their own country, being carried out by Sinn Féin and aided and abetted Whitehall. Within the membership of the UVF there are those who would be sympathetic to the Irish language, but in the present toxic atmosphere, the introduction of a Language Act would be counterproductive and could put back the cause of the Irish language within Unionist communities. A policy of education and depoliticisation to neutralise the language should be put in place before any government action could be brought about.Charter Northern Ireland stated:
What the Irish Language Act entails needs to be explained to the Protestant people and the working class Protestant community in particular. Charter N.I. concurs with the Good Friday Agreement and for a language act as part of that agreement and we fundamentally support the ultimate introduction of the act after a period of effective education. However, at this time when Protestant communities feel that their British identity is under threat, we feel that a common sense approach must be taken by all involved.
Ms Janet Muller:
Our argument would be that the Act is an important means to depoliticise the language. Le cúig bliana déag anuas, tá athruithe móra tagtha ar shochaí an Tuaiscirt. Is láidre an Ghaeilge anois agus is mó an t-aitheantas stáit atá aici, go háirithe faoi Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus faoi Chomhaontú Chill Rimhinn, agus faoi ionstraimí idirnáisiúnta, mar shampla, Cairt na hEorpa do Theangacha Réigiúnacha nó Mionlaigh. Go fóill, áfach, is í an Ghaeilge an t-aon phríomhtheanga dhúchais ar na hoileáin seo nach bhfuil faoi chosaint ar leith na reachtaíochta intíre. Forbraíodh réim dlíthiúil na Breatnaise tuilleadh ag Beart na Breatnaise 2011. Tá an Gáidhlig in Albain faoi chosaint Acht na Gáidhlig (Albain) 2005. Tá an Ghaeilge, ar ndóigh, faoi chosaint bhunreachtúil agus faoi Acht na dTeangacha Oifigiúla 2006 ó dheas agus glacadh léi mar theanga oifigiúil de chuid an Aontais Eorpaigh.
Le blianta fada, tá sé soiléir dár bpobal ó Thuaidh go bhfuil géarghá le reachtaíocht chuí áitiúil don Ghaeilge i dTuaisceart na hÉireann. Le cuidiú leis an phróiseas, d'fhoilsigh POBAL ár ndoiciméad, Acht na Gaeilge Tuaisceart Éireann i mí Feabhra 2006.
Go raibh maith agat, Ms Muller. As a vote has been called in the Dáil, I propose that we suspend the meeting for ten minutes. The witnesses, MPs and Senators who are present should feel free to have an informal chat. I apologise for having to suspend, but the Deputies present need to vote. We have to be strict about these things.
Mr. Niall Ó Catháin:
Is mise Niall Ó Catháin, stiúrthóir ar bhord Coiste Forbartha Charn Tóchair. Ta mé iontach buíoch as an deis cur i láthair a dhéanamh os comhair an choiste inniu. I am the director of Carntogher Community Association and Glór na nGael Charn Tóchair and I thank the committee for this opportunity to make a presentation. I realise time is short so I will focus on one aspect of the Irish language in the North, which relates to the intolerance towards it in some quarters and the absolute necessity to deal with this issue if we are to have a lasting peace process. I will also look at the opportunity of the special PEACE III programme, which, although it is still open, is being squandered. An opportunity still exists to do something about it.
Carn Tóchair is a small rural area in south County Derry in the Sperrin Mountains. It was an Irish-speaking area until 100 years ago, with native speakers surviving until living memory. We have had a long history and heritage of the language and of Gaelic sport for more than 100 years. For the past 20 years Coiste Forbartha Charn Tóchair and Glór na nGael Charn Tóchair have focused on developing a range of physical, economic, social, environmental and cultural projects to reassert the Irish language. These have at their core the revival of the Irish language and its reinstatement as a community language in the area. We have been very successful. We tie the Irish language in with every aspect of community development and it works exceptionally well. The Gaelscoil in the area is attended by more than 100 children and it has more than 100 former pupils. We also have quite a few adult learners and families bringing up their children through the medium of Irish. We are the only area in Ireland, North or South, outside the official Gaeltacht where the majority of primary school children are educated through the medium of Irish. We have made massive steps forward. We are a re-emerging Gaeltacht and have a young and vibrant Irish-speaking community, which is a real example to everyone.
In our community we provide a rich cultural and linguistic experience for this young generation of Irish speakers. Unfortunately, this is not the case outside our community. Speaking from my own experience, it is very difficult. I raise my family through the medium of Irish and for my children Irish is an integral part of their existence and is how they know the names of townlands, places, rivers and mountains. It is part of who they are. It is very difficult to explain to my children that outside our area the Irish language does not really count and is effectively being oppressed. There is no Irish language road or public signage and very few visitor attractions have interpretation or any level of written material in Irish. My children must grow up with the realisation that to speak Irish in the wrong place at the wrong time could lead to physical harm, which must be addressed if we are to have a long-term peaceful society in the North.
I mentioned interpretation and I have cited as an example in my written statement the Navan Centre in Armagh, which is one of the most important Gaelic sites in Ulster.
Mr. Aodán Mac Póilín:
Go raibh míle maith agat as ucht an cuireadh go teacht seo.
I will give the committee some background information first. For the last 23 years I have been the director of the Ultach Trust, a cross-community Irish language organisation based in Belfast. I live in the Shaw's Road Gaeltacht in Belfast and am a former chairman of the first Irish-medium school in Northern Ireland and of Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta. I spent eight years as a board member of Foras na Gaeilge. I will briefly mention five topics, some of which have been dealt with in great detail in the draft report that has been circulated to the committee. The members probably have not read it because it is a big beast of a thing. I will summarise the points made.
My organisation believes that the draft Irish language strategy published last year by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure has not given due attention to the cross-community imperative identified in the Northern Ireland programme for government, which is focused on reconciliation. This imperative is also implicit in the Good Friday Agreement's commitment to promoting respect, understanding and tolerance regarding linguistic diversity, in which Irish and Ulster-Scots are specifically mentioned. There is a great deal in our report on that.
No matter how desirable it might be to have an effective Irish language Act and no matter how strong the case for it is or what shape an effective language Act could or should have, we believe there is little prospect of a language Act in the short to medium term given the political configuration in Northern Ireland. In other words, if it is not passed in Westminster, it will not be passed. We are working on the assumption that Westminster does not want to do it.
Third, we believe that the draft Irish language strategy, which is an enormously important step towards supporting the language, depends too much on the language Act we will not get and also depends too much on the model of the 20-Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010-2030 in the South, which was designed for a society in which the constitutional, legal, social, political,
These statements may be a bit bald, but the sometimes complex analysis behind them can be found in the report. It is still in draft form but I hope to have the final form available by the end of next week. I will send a copy to the members.
There are two other topics I wish to cover very quickly. The first is the future of the Irish language broadcasting fund. My organisation campaigned for this fund for 13 years. It was finally established in 2003-04 and is worth £3 million per annum. It is one of the most important support infrastructures for the Irish language in Northern Ireland.
I thank the delegates for their presentations. To understand what is happening in the North, we can outline what is happening in the South. I come from the west and learned Irish compulsorily for 14 years at school. Like most of my counterparts, my knowledge and use of the Irish language are very limited. Surveys suggest 42% of people can use the language, but it is more fantasy than fact. Where I live, we are much closer to the attitude of people in east Belfast in our approach to the language, despite claiming an ability to speak it. After 14 years of learning Irish at school, it was a mitigated failure. An awful lot has been done and will be done.
Three years ago I was appointed to the Front Bench as spokesman on community affairs and the Irish language was part of that brief. What happened proved why we had not had success where I lived. A letter was written to a newspaper asking Deputy Enda Kenny to dismiss me from my role because I was not an Irish language speaker. It was written by so-called academics, artists and writers who were well meaning and well intentioned. However, they did not represent people on the ground. The people I met through Conradh na Gaeilge and Comhdháil na Gaeilge and other Irish speakers were understanding and facilitative. There are anomalies that need to be addressed and I thank the people who showed faith in me. Táim ag foghlaim chun mo chuid Gaeilge a fheabhsú. We have much more to do.
Ms Linda Ervine is very welcome. We went to the Skainos centre in east Belfast, where brilliant work is done. On the committee there has been a lack of involvement by Unionist and loyalist politicians. It would be more beneficial for all sides if they were to contribute to it. It would create a better balance.
This issue has been committed to under the Irish language Act, but we are in another situation where the fight is never what it seems to be about. What do the delegates think we should do? Should we have a timeframe for implementation? It seems to be a political football. Where I live, the Irish language was not fully embraced as it was seen to be the preserve of militant nationalism. I have been in the cultural centre in west Belfast and much has been done to preserve the Irish language. Sometimes, however, there is a knee-jerk reaction and people may think the fact that we are speaking Irish is linked with militancy. People disagree with me and have their own opinions, but I can only tell them how tens of thousands of young men and women like me felt. I am proud that we can move forward on this issue and would like to work with each and every one the delegates to ensure the position on the Irish language goes back to what it was 100 years ago. We must take a holistic approach. What has been done in south Derry, as outlined by Mr. Ó Catháin, is wonderful and exceptional. It is the way forward. The gaelscoil approach has been very successful, which is great to see.
After 14 years at school, we allowed the Irish language to be the preserve of elites and so-called intellectuals. What we are doing today is trying to take it back in order that it is spoken by the vast majority of people with no political or intellectual agenda. The agenda should be to increase fluency in the language. We do not have to be expert because we can hardly speak English properly. All we need is a cúpla focail and we should not be afraid of getting it wrong or criticism. I look forward to hearing the views of the delegates.
I welcome our guests and thank them for their contributions. Each of the speakers is committed to the promotion of the Irish language, but there is a different emphasis on the part of each of them. The 20 year strategy was published three years ago and promoted by Deputy Eamon Ó Cuív. He attended the meeting earlier but had another commitment at 1 p.m. and was not able to return. The 20 year strategy supports the introduction of an Irish language Act in Northern Ireland. It is something I fully support. Much preparatory work and homework must be done and perhaps it might be accelerated in order that it will not be an imposition on those who do not want to speak the language but a support for those who want to speak it.
Tá brón orm nach raibh mé in ann bheith anseo ag tús an chruinnithe mar bhí mé sa Dáil. Léigh mé na páipéir a bhaineann leis. I was interested to hear about the position of education in Gaelscoileanna, and I saw a note that more than 4,500 children are in Irish medium education in the North. That is something to be welcomed across the country. I read about the rebroadcasting of TG4 across the North and although it is welcome, it is not available in some parts of the greater Belfast area. Perhaps the committee could make some strong representations on that. The issue of media is very important, whether it is Raidío na Gaeltachta or TG4 broadcasting programmes in Irish.
Acht na Gaeltachta has been referred to and there is a feeling, as mentioned by Mr. Ó Catháin, that the British Government must make an announcement as the feeling is it will not come from any other quarter. There is an issue about encouraging the Irish language. I take the point by Deputy Feighan that sometimes people can be particular about the canúint, grammar or the way the Irish language is spoken. It is great to see people having a go at speaking the language. To take Deputy Smith's point, there can be a certain hostility about the way people deal with it. We are often told that Irish thrived because the British Government did not want us to speak Irish and the hedge schools came about because were not meant to have our religion or language. That is why they thrived so well. If there is hostility or at least no encouragement, could Irish thrive? Overall, there are a number of proposals that our committee could make with regard to TG4 or Raidío na Gaeltachta and there could be more coverage of Irish programmes.
I thank the witnesses for the presentation and I apologise for missing the beginning. The Irish language interests me but I also find it massively intimidating. One of the biggest problems is that a person can make an idiot of oneself when trying to speak it because there might not be much coherence. The word "náire", or embarrassment, comes to mind, and among my close friends, it is a major factor stopping them speaking Irish. There is no item in the room for which I would not know the Irish word, and I could give the Irish equivalent to any verb in English, and that level of knowledge would be the case for many people I know. Nevertheless, putting together the jigsaw is very difficult because of the abstract nature of learning the Irish language; if a person is not immersed in it, it becomes very difficult.
I have met many people through the years who have struggled with languages in school, particularly Irish, and they may have gone to Germany and Spain, where within four or five months they are almost fluent in the local language. The biggest challenge facing the Irish language is finding places where people can immerse themselves, and there is a massive opportunity in technology that could change the issue. There is a phone application called "Anseo", and it can be followed on Twitter and Facebook. It is a virtual Gaeltacht and one can find out where there are Irish-speaking individuals in the area by using the application. One can find out if these people are eight or nine miles away, ten miles away or 50 miles away. One can even see how many Irish speakers are in the area, and such information can be used to pull together people in a group. There are opportunities for immersion that have never been there before so are these being considered?
I made a suggestion at a meeting of the environment committee, which takes in Irish language, that there should be a day in which texts are sent only in Irish. Perhaps some of the phone providers could come on board. It is an area I have found that with a couple of friends we have developed and progressed. One friend is completely fluent in Irish and can speak and write old and middle Irish; he knows every form of Irish there has been, even that which does not look like modern Irish. We have sent texts to him and he has replied, with all the texts in Irish. A person is caught on the hop speaking Irish and does not know how to reply in many instances but in a text one can use a downloaded dictionary and use any fancy words that one can think of. One can be more articulate than one would ever be in English. For approximately two years I have been texting only in Irish with this person and a few others. It has been a big help so could this idea be considered?
I will take up Deputy Feighan's comments. When I heard Deputy Feighan was to become the Irish spokesperson for Fine Gael and the stick he was getting because he was not fluent, I thought of how this is one of the major problems.
Mr. Conor Murphy:
I will be brief because I am conscious of the time. The idea of Acht na Gaeilge and that legislation for people's rights has to wait for those who are opposed to those rights to be comfortable with the idea of legislating for them is really putting the cart before the horse. People's rights have to be legislated for because other people oppose those rights. While I very much appreciate the work which is being done in Unionist communities in particular and by gaelgeoirí across the North to open up the language and ensure people feel more comfortable, the reality is that there is a requirement for rights-based legislation for it. It cannot wait until everybody is completely comfortable because if everybody was completely content and happy with the language, there would be no need for rights-based legislation to protect it and those who want to speak it.
There is a requirement to press ahead with it. It was part of the St. Andrews Agreement. The British Government fudged the issue. We put it very clearly to it that if it did not legislate for it in Westminster and kicked it back to the Assembly, it would not happen. It messed about with it on the basis that it had no political will to pursue it in Westminster. It needs to go back there because as has been said, it was part of a sovereign agreement between two Governments which was an extension of the Good Friday Agreement. It would be useful for this committee to raise this issue with the Taoiseach given that it is now an outstanding matter of the St. Andrews Agreement which developed the Good Friday Agreement.
The issue of SEUPB funding was raised. I read the report of the Comptroller and Auditor General and the criticism of the Equality Commission and the way it has dealt with Irish language issues. I find myself in agreement with the Comptroller and Auditor General's criticism of the Equality Commission in its approach to this. There is an opportunity for this committee to raise with the SEUPB the approach of EU funding in regard to Irish language projects.
The broadcasting fund and the plans being developed under the North-South Ministerial Council, as advised by Foras na Gaeilge, are issues which this committee could raise and perhaps receive a presentation from the people in involved in the NSMS. In terms of the St. Andrews Agreement, I am aware the broadcasting fund was very much on the agenda but I agree that a position might not arise. We do not want the broadcasting fund and the contribution of the British Government to be the subject of crisis negotiation. It should be something committed to and followed through on. Those are three areas which it would be quite useful for the committee to pick up on, namely, EU funding, the broadcasting fund and the approach of the NSMC to the Irish language. The outstanding issue of Acht na Gaeilge is one for the Taoiseach to raise with the British Government.
Mr. Francie Molloy:
I am the MP for the area. I have visited the site which is a very important one and in which very good work is going on. It is an example of how work can be developed. The point raised about EU funding is very important. If there is work to be done to deal with and reconcile the issues, this body should be used to do that in addition to supporting the project so that it is sustainable and a good example of the development of the Irish language.
I go back to the question Mr. Aodán Mac Póilin raised in regard to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. I find it a little strange that the only Department in the Assembly which has done anything to promote this is the one which is criticised. I am not speaking on behalf of the Department but the Act was voted down by the Assembly because of the hostility and reaction of Unionists to it. The only way to bring it in was through the Department and try to move as far as possible. That is something for which it should get credit and not criticism.
We should not give up too quickly because to say that it is most likely it will not be passed is the best way to defeat it. The St. Andrews Agreement is part of the Good Friday Agreement and all the parties signed up to it. The British Government gave a commitment under it. This committee's role is to secure the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement and the St. Andrews Agreement. We should say it is up to the British Government to implement it and ensure the Act is enacted because it could do so. The St. Andrews Agreement is a binding agreement. I do not think we should give up at this early stage and let any Government off the hook in regard to the agreements made.
Caithfidh mé a rá nach ball den choiste seo mé, ach tháinig mé anseo le cloisint céard atá á dhéanamh maidir leis an Ghaeilge i dTuaisceart na hÉireann. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na finnéithe. Tá fáinne óir agam, ach níl mo theanga fhéin ar bharr mo theanga. Táim an-bhuíoch don Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh mar fuair mé an fáinne óir uaidh. Táim an-bhuíoch dó as sin. Nuair a bhí mise ar scoil, cúpla bliain ó shin, múineadh na hábhair ar fad tré Ghaeilge, stair, tír eolas agus gach ábhar eile ach amháin Béarla. Bhí an Ghaeilge á labhairt freisin nuair a bhíomar ag imirt cluiche peile sa chlós nó sa pháirc. Bhí ceithre nó cúig scoileanna náisiúnta sa cheantar agus sin mar a bhí sé i ngach scoil sa cheantar.
Chaill mé mo theanga, ach nuair a tháinig mé go Teach Laighin cúpla bliain ó shin, thosnaigh mé ag freastal ar rang Gaeilge anseo agus de réir a chéile tá an teanga ag teacht ar ais chugam. Tá scéal gearr agam a bhaineann leis an tír seo. Cúpla bliain ó shin, bhí mé ag caint le príomhoide scoil náisiúnta. B'fhéidir go raibh an múinteoir céanna ag an duine seo agus a bhí agamsa. Dúirt sé liom go raibh ár teanga ag fáil bháis. Bhí brón orm é sin a chloisint agus d'fhiafraigh mé de cad a bhí á dhéanamh aige i dtaobh sin. Ní dhéanfaidh mé dearmad go deo ar an fhreagra a thug sé dom. Dúirt sé nach bhfuil sé ag déanamh faic faoi. Ceapaim nach bhfuil an tsuim céanna ag an chuid is mó de na múinteoirí in ár scoileanna náisiúnta agus a bhí. Inniu, lasmuigh de doras an Tí seo, chuala mé múinteoir - cailín a bhí inti - ag caint Gaeilge lena daltaí scoile. Bhí Gaeilge iontach ag an múinteoir seo, absolutely fantastic and I butted in to ask a question. As often as I can, I ask pupils from scoileanna náisiúnta here cén contae as a dtagann siad agus mar sin de. Bhí Gaeilge iontach ag an dream seo, taobh amuig den doras seo. Bhí áthas an domhain orm iad a chloisint.
Caithfidh mé é seo a rá i mBéarla. We must make our native language fun to learn sna scoileanna. Bhí mé ag caint le fear atá pósta ag a bhfuil cúigear páiste aige agus a bhfuil cónaí air sna Stáit Aontaithe. He is a man who has been through university and has a degree, an MBA and the lot. I asked him who was the best teacher he had ever come across and he said it was the man, an fear a bhí ag caint liom agus a dúirt nach raibh sé ag déanamh faic maidir leis an Ghaeilge a bheith ag fáil bháis. I asked why he chose him and he said that it was because, "He made it fun to learn." I am convinced by that.
I have a suggestion to make. I have a fáinne óir, ach b'fhéidir nach cóir go mbeadh sé agam mar níl an Ghaeilge ar bharr mo theanga agam. Caithfidh mé smaoineamh a dhéanamh roimh gach abairt. Táim ábalta an Ghaeilge a scríobh i bhfad níos fearr ná í a labhairt. Everybody who has a cúpla focal should have some emblem, perhaps not a fáinne óir, ach brat éigin a thaispeánann do gach duine eile go bhfuil cúpla focal acu. Tá an fáinne á chaitheamh agam agus nuair a bhfeiceann daoine a bhfuil cúpla focal acu é, labhraíonn siad cúpla focal liom agus freagraím le abairt as Gaeilge. Sin an rud atá á dhéanamh agamsa don Ghaeilge.
I understood Irish was flúirseach in the North agus ag dul i méid and that more people were speaking it. The Deputy Commissioner of the PSNI suggested in an article that cúpla céad duine in the PSNI were ábalta Gaeilge a labhairt. An bhfuil sin ceart? I read an article in a newspaper saying that everybody should make it his or her own language. Ceapaim go bhfuil rud éigin le déanamh againn go léir. An t-aon difríocht idir sinne agus aon tír eile ná ár teanga féin.
I will make my statements as Gaeilge because it is important for us as parliamentarians here to use the service we have.
Cuirim míle fáilte roimh na rannpháirtithe anseo. Duine mé a bhfuil ardmheas agam ar an dul chun cinn atá déanta sna Sé Contae ó thaobh na Gaeilge de. Breathnaím ó Thuaidh i gcónaí ó thaobh eiseamláir maidir le cur chun cinn na teanga. Le bheith pointeáilte faoin díospóireacht seo inniu, ceapaim go bhfuil Acht na Gaeilge ó Thuaidh tábhachtach sa chomhthéacs idirnáisiúnta, ó thaobh na teangacha eile atá faoi bhrú, agus go háirithe ó thaobh an chaoi ina bhfuil an Gáidhlig in Albain.
I saol eile, bhí mise ag plé leis an drámaíocht agus na meáin agus ceann de na háiteanna is mó a ndearna mé taisteal chuige ná na hoileáin siar in Albain, áit a bhfuil Eileán Leódhais, Eileán na Hearadh, Beinn na Faoghla agus áiteacha eile mar sin ina bhfuil formhór pobal Protastúnach iontu a labhraíonn an Gáidhlig ó lá go lá. Ní raibh aon cheist riamh in Albain an pholaitíocht agus mar sin de a ardú ó thaobh an teanga de. Ba bhreá liom sin a fheiceáil anseo chomh maith céanna, ar fud an oileáin seo. Caithfimid dul i dtreo an rud sin, nach bhfuil an pholaitíocht bainteach leis an teanga agus nach bhfuil sí dlúthcheangailte leí.
Is cóir go ndéanfadh an coiste seo iarratas maidir leis an SEUPB, go ndéanfaídh achainí ar an choiste, mar atá luaite ag Niall Ó Catháin, maidir le tacaíocht a thabhairt ó thaobh na tograí a bhfuil an teanga bainteach leo.
Tacaím leis an méid atá ráite ag an Seanadóir Ó Clochartaigh. Ba mhaith liom fáilte a chur roimh na rannpháirtithe éagsúla. Ní ball den choiste seo mé. Tá mé ag déanamh ionadaíochta ar son an Teachta Crowe. Bhí air an cruinniú seo a fhágaint.
Tá stair ársa agus suimiúil ag an nGaeilge. Ní bhaineann sé le haon aicme, aon reiligiún nó aon phairtí polaitiúil ar an oiléan seo. Ní chóir go mbainfeadh aon teanga riamh le haon cheann acu sin. Dhein m'athair staidéar sa leabhar Hidden Ulster ar an ceangal agus an cur chuige a bhí ag an pobal Preispitéireach ar an oileán seo i dtaobh na Gaeilge. Ba léir ón staidéar sin gur minic go raibh na Preispitéirigh chun tosaigh ar an gcuid eile den tír maidir le cosaint a dhéanamh ar an teanga nuair a bhí sí faoi bhrú. Is trua gur chaill muid thar 100 nó 150 bliain roinnt den seasamh sin a bhí i measc dream láidir a bhí lonnaithe i gCúige Uladh sa chuid is mó, cé go rabhadar tríd na tíre ar fad. Dá mbeadh an stair an-spéisiúl atá ag an Ghaeilge i gCúige Uladh curtha chun cinn níos mó, b'fhéidir go mbeadh sé beagáinín níos éasca roinnt den naimhdeas don Ghaeilge i measc roinnt daoine a bhriseadh síos. Ba chóir go mbeadh an Special European Union Programmes Body ag iarraidh an tsórt cur chuige sin a bheachtú leis an airgead atá á chur chun cinn acu chun déileáil le "intolerance". Ba cheart don choiste scríobh chucu chomh luath agus is féidir, ag léiriú go bhfuil teip orthu déileáil leis an iarratas a cuireadh isteach maidir leis an nGaeilge. Ba chóir go mbeidís ag tabhairt tacaíocht don Ghaeilge agus ag iarraidh slí a fháil chun déileáil leis an naimhdeas atá i measc roinnt daoine sa tír.
Tháinig mise ar an nGaeilge i dtús báire os rud é gurb í mo theanga dhúchais í. Tógadh mé i mBaile Átha Cliath, agus bhí sé deacair dom an Béarla a fhoglaim. Ní raibh Béarla maith agam suas go dtí an dara leibhéal, nó fiú an tríú leibhéal, ar scoil. B'fhéidir nach bhfuil go fóill, de réir roinnt daoine. Níor chas mé ar an Béarla i gceart go dtí gur chuaigh mé go dtí an ollscoil, toisc go raibh na léachtanna i mBéarla. Tuigim go bhfuil sé deacair do dhaoine teangacha a fhoglaim nó a ghnóthú. Ní raibh mé in ann tabhairt faoin Fhraincis i gceart nuair a bhí mé ar scoil. Bhí orm casadh ar an mBéarla os rud é go raibh sé timpeall orm sa chathair seo, inar tógadh mé. Bhí an Béarla ag mo ghaolta ar fad - ní Gaeilgeoir ó dhúchas é m'athair. Tháinig sinsir m'athair as Woodvale i mBéal Feirste sa chéad dul síos. Preispitéirigh ab ea iad, agus chuir siad fúthu i gContae Cheatharlach sa 19ú chéad. Fiú sa chéad deireanach, bhí siad gafa le náisiúnachas - bhí siad amuigh sa bhliain 1916 - in ainneoin gurb as Woodvale dóibh. Tá ár stair an-chasta agus uaireanta bíonn sé deacair teacht tríd.
Tá an Comhchoiste um Fhorfheidhmiú Chomhaontú Aoine an Chéasta ag díriú isteach ar conas todhchaí nua a thógaint, agus na deacrachtaí stairiúla ar fad fágtha leis an stair. Ba chóir go mbeimid in ann níos mó a dhéanamh, mar a léiríodh i gComhaontú Aoine an Chéasta agus, go háirithe, i gComhaontú St. Andrews, nuair a gheall an dá Rialtas go mbeadh Acht teanga sa Tuaisceart. Molaim gur chóir don choiste scríobh chuig an Taoiseach ag impí air straitéis a leagadh amach a mhíneodh conas a chuirfidh an Rialtas anseo, i gcomhar le Rialtas Shasana, an Acht teanga seo i gcrích, mar a léirigh an dá Rialtas sa chomhaontú idirnáisiúnta.
Ba chóir don choiste litir eile a scríobh i dtaobh an chiste craolacháin. Is gá go mbeadh an ciste sin níos buaine. Ní raibh mé anseo chun éisteacht le gach rud a bhí le rá ag ár gcuairteoirí, ach go bhfios dom, tá sé i gceist ag an gcoiste athnuachan a dhéanamh arís sa bhliain 2015. Measaim gur chóir go mbeadh an Rialtas anseo ag tabhairt tacaíocht dóibh siúd atá i mbun feachtais, ag iarraidh go gcuirfí an ciste craolacháin ar bhunús níos buaine.
I will hand back to the witnesses to answer those questions. Out of all the meetings I have chaired, I have never witnessed such a range of interventions, which highlights the passion and desire on the part of members to maximise the importance of the Irish language. There were many personal observations that do not need a reply but in the remaining time, if the witnesses want to make their own observations on those contributions, that would be appreciated.
Ms Janet Mullet:
Gabhaim buíochas le gach duine as éisteacht linn inniu. Bhí an cruinniú iontach suimiúil agus táimid fíor-bhuíoch don choiste go léir. We are very grateful for the invitation to address the committee and for all the comments that have been made.
The Irish language Act is an attempt to depoliticise the Irish language; it is about removing it from the political arena and placing it in the administrative arena. We have seen that happen in the North around the implementation of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. The British Government in the Good Friday Agreement gave a commitment that it would look at that and it subsequently ratified the charter. When that was first introduced, there was a great deal of negative reaction from some quarters, with some people saying they would not implement the charter. Legal advice was sought and it was made clear that the charter had to be implemented and that it would bring benefits, clarifying the duties of civil servants and public bodies. It contributed to a more peaceful and forward looking society and the charter is now implemented to a certain degree.
The difficult with the charter ironically is that those who are opposed to an Irish language Act say that because we have the charter, we do not need anything else. These are the same people who at one stage said they would not implement the charter. There can be a progression in people's minds as long as the understanding is there that continual delay is not an option.
One of the weaknesses of the charter is that it is not enforceable through the courts, although it has given a level of awareness of and status to the Irish language. Much of the preparatory work, therefore, for an Irish language Act is already in place through the implementation and introduction of the charter. All language legislation is compensation for damage that has been done to a language. Dominant languages do not have legislation. Although legislation cannot be a panacea for the needs of a language, there is no language that has gone from being in a disadvantaged and threatened position to being significantly restored without legislation. The Irish language Act is a crucial piece of the jigsaw when it comes to the promotion of the Irish language. It will create space for the language within all sections of society.
We have heard a number of issues brought up today. Those who are favourable to the language, particularly in the North where we do not have domestic protection for the language, can continue to deal with those issues on a piecemeal basis, which we have done and will do, but that is not a solution. Pobal deals today with the same issues that were coming up 14 years ago. We can and will continue to do that for as long as we are funded and are able to do it. An Irish language Act would save so much time and frustration and difficulty for ordinary Irish speakers
It is extremely important a timescale is put in place for a strong, comprehensive, rights-based Irish language Act. If it was to be introduced within a three year timescale, much of the preparatory work, the educational work and awareness work could be undertaken straight away and the ongoing work could continue.
The Act should make the Irish language an official language in the North. It should create a broad range of guaranteed rights and services within a wide range of areas, such as in the courts, where it is currently illegal to speak or write Irish. It is the only language that is effectively banned from use in the courts. There should be a framework for the Irish language in the courts, in education, in the public services, in the political institutions and in the media. There must be a strong enforcement and implementation mechanism and we suggest it should resemble the enforcement mechanism in the South and in other countries, with a language commissioner with strong duties and rights. We are very supportive of the role of Seán Ó Cuirreáin in that field.
Educational and awareness raising work is ongoing. I want to link that to the issue of core funding for the language organisations. We are one of the key organisations that has spearheaded the issues around legislation, monitoring, research and community rights. We were instrumental in the work by the Committee on the Administration of Justice published on the Irish language recently. Niall Ó Cathain referred earlier to the support we enjoy from the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission but our funding for that work ends on 30 June. That will be the fifth time our funding has ended and we have been forced to issue redundancy notices to our very small team of workers. It is difficult for the core funded organisations to continue on this basis. We must deal with this ongoing issue with Foras na Gaeilge arising from the North-South Ministerial Council so I support Aodán Mac Póilín's comments on that.
We would ask the committee to press for a timescale for the implementation of a comprehensive, rights-based Irish language Act, and for pro-active action on education and awareness raising work in the light of that commitment on an agreed timescale. If the timescale is not agreed before, we are no further along, and we have already waited seven years for the commitment made at St. Andrews to be fulfilled. We support and congratulate the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North for the steps it has taken on a strategy for the North and supporting an Irish language Act. That standing has not been without difficulty for the Department and Minister and the support of this committee would be very important for that.
Ms Janet Muller:
No, the strategy was in the programme for Government. A consultation on the strategy ended in November 2012 and the process is underway.
We would share the concerns and have made some comments about the content of the draft document. Overall, however, we are supportive of a strategy for the Irish language in the North.
Ms Janet Muller:
No. That will depend on the ongoing discussions. That is my understanding and I have no inside track on that. I believe that the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure is working through a series of discussions and working through the Assembly process. Our difficulty is that there is no guarantee of Assembly agreement on that strategy. Some very negative comments have been made. As onlookers in that process, we are supportive of a strategy but we are concerned about its eventual implementation. That is something that we would be concerned about with an Irish language act too. It is absolutely true and right that the ultimate commitment to enact legislation was given by the British Government in the St. Andrew's agreement. That is an international treaty which places a binding obligation on the government, which it must fulfil. However, we do not want to continue to have what we have had to date, that is, to-ing and fro-ing between the Assembly and Westminster. Westminster must accept its responsibility and must act. I thank the committee for its support in that regard.
Mr. Aodán Mac Póilín:
I will follow on from what Ms Muller has said, but from a slightly different angle. Our understanding is that some time in the summer a new version of the strategy will be published. Consultations are taking place at the moment with different Departments in terms of the implications. This second version of the draft strategy will then have to go to the Executive for consideration because this is an Executive strategy rather than in internal departmental strategy. Once it goes to the Executive it will be eviscerated because an Irish language strategy or an Irish language act has the same effect on the politics of Northern Ireland as taking down the Union flag from City Hall. This is what we are facing into.
I must point out that I praised the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure for being the first institution in Northern Ireland to develop an Irish language strategy, but there are flaws in it. One of the flaws is the lack of consideration of the cross-community perspective and the other one is the fact that a lot of the strategy is predicated on an Irish language act but such an act is not going to happen. We cannot wait to develop a strategy until a language act is in place. The actions outlined in one and a half chapters of the strategy require an Irish language act in order to be implemented. This is a real problem.
My analysis is that it is something that the Minister cannot do because the Minister has to pursue both the language act and the strategy but these will not happen within the same time scale. That is why I am proposing a plan B. The Minister cannot make progress because she is being pulled in two different directions. More flexibility is required. There are also genuine flaws in the strategy vis-à-vis its interpretation of what language planning involves. I do not think the strategy takes that issue on board fully.
Another issue of concern is the general perception of the language situation in Northern Ireland. We have a very strong, coherent and fairly effective language revival movement or community. I started learning Irish in 1968 and the language has never been as healthy as it is now. I used to know every Irish speaker in Belfast but now, every day, I meet new speakers whom I have not met before. It is blooming. I wish to put this in the political and social context. In the last census, 10.6% of the population claimed a knowledge of the Irish language. As committee members will know, if one has only a tiny bit of Irish, one cannot say one has no knowledge of the language. In other words, there is a spectrum of knowledge there. We have no analysis of where people are in terms of fluency. The figures are useless in that regard but they are useful in one way because they allow for a sectarian analysis. In that context, 21% of Catholics claim to have a knowledge of Irish, while only 1% of Protestants do. Given the high correlation between political identity and religious identity in Northern Ireland, that basically means what we all know anyway, namely that the language is associated with, in both fact and public perception, the Catholic/Nationalist community. I published Pádraig Ó Snodaigh's important book, Hidden Ulster, Protestants and the Irish Language, which was the first major study of the issue of Protestant Irish language identity, which is not necessarily a political identity. It was a very important book which has been followed up by books by Rory Blaney on the Presbyterian tradition and Dr. Ian Malcolm, among others.
There is a big divide in terms of knowledge of Irish between the two communities. The situation in the North cannot be compared to that in the South. Everybody in the South is taught Irish - possibly badly - for 14 years. Everybody in the South has had exposure to Irish and if they see the word t-e-a-c-h, they know it might mean teach - the Irish word for house - as opposed to teach. In Northern Ireland hardly anybody studies Irish at school and then, generally speaking, unless they are attending an Irish-medium school, they only study it at second level. It is almost entirely confined to the Catholic population and the Catholic school system and even then, it is not universal. The level of exposure to Irish through the education system is massively different. There are two major differences between the two societies. First, there is the fact that the language is deeply divisive along the political/religious identity spectrum and second, very few people in the North have had exposure to it. We have a very vibrant but very small Irish language community.
I was fascinated by the discussion earlier between Deputies Feighan, Flanagan and Senator Brennan from which I noted an ambivalence but also a deep sense of goodwill towards the language. They suggested that everybody loves the language but hated having to study it at school. I know that does not apply to everybody, but it certainly applies to many. That is very different to the situation in Northern Ireland. The hostility towards the language in the Republic cannot be compared to the hostility in Northern Ireland. The hostility in the South comes from some bad experiences at school but in the North, the hostility comes from a sense that the language is designed to undercut the society. That is the perception and that is what we have to work against. However, campaigning for an Irish language act will intensify that hostility. If we had an act in place, it would make the situation better. Once there is a support structure in place - Jim's analysis is totally correct in this regard - the Unionist parties will oppose it initially, then learn to live with it and discover that the sky does not fall. If we had a good Irish language act it would be very good for our society. However, getting there could do an awful lot of damage. I do not know how we will deal with that dilemma. We must be very careful because there is no simplistic answer to this. Well, actually, there is - Westminster should pass an Irish language act. If an Irish language act emanated from Westminster, everything would be far better. Failing that, it will be a hot potato that will make the whole issue of the Irish language worse than it currently is.
Ms Linda Ervine:
As a member of the Protestant/Unionist community, I have been embarrassed many times over the years by the behaviour of people who claim to represent me and my community because they do not represent me when they sit down and say "No, no, no" to everything and when they block moves that I consider to be positive. I do not want committee members to presume I will take a negative stance on this issue and that I will adopt the predictable stance of a Unionist politician and say that my community does not want an Irish language act because the other community does.
Mr. Niall Ó Catháin:
I wish to make a few points leading on from Mr. Póilin's contribution on the positive steps forward. Without question, it has been a very positive experience for our community, as well as education through the medium of the Irish language. There are other positive steps such as the Líofa campaign and the strategy, which without the legislation will be difficult to implement. There has been a real benefit to our community and many others across the North.
I appreciate the point Ms Ervine makes on the impact of the Irish language on the work she does. She is doing great work in a very challenging environment, but her concerns are not mutually exclusive to bringing forward the legislation. It is a matter of preparation and setting a date for its implementation and then dealing with all of the issues Ms Ervine raised. It is a pity we have squandered the past 15 years through the special support programme with a constant refusal to see this as an issue. I would like the committee to communicate with the SEUPB as this would be of great help. It would also help in dealing with the issues Ms Ervine has outlined. There must be certainty, as nothing will focus the mind of everyone concerned more than the setting of a date for implementation of the legislation. All efforts must be brought to bear to put pressure on Westminster such as those of European, American or international bodies putting pressure on it to bring forward a Bill. A twin-track approach must bw taken of promoting the language, in addition to promoting cultural tolerance and understanding, which will be important elements in enacting the legislation.
I certainly reiterate the need for core funding, as outlined by Mr. Póilin. Pobal has done invaluable work on the proposed legislation on the Irish language. I do not know where we would be without it. I would hate to see the Irish language movement in the North without an organisation such as Pobal to fight for it.
On the use of the Irish language by dissidents who politicise it, dissidents use English more than Irish. There is an issue with perception. I raised a point on the Equality Commission which puts too much store on perception. When somebody has an objection to the language and is opposed to it, it is either an irrational fear of it that needs to be dealt with or, possibly, bigotry. These are real issues that need to be dealt with. We must address them, as opposed to not promoting language equality, which is most important.
Ba mhaith liom buíochas a ghabháil leis na baill ar fad agus leis na rannpháirtithe a ghlac páirt sa díospóireacht. Bhí an cruinniú inniu iontach tábhachtach agus bhí an t-ábhar agus an díospóireacht tábhachtach chomh maith. I thank the delegates. The meeting has been invaluable, as members have been given an insight into where the challenges lie. There are two aspects to the solution - the importance of reaching a solution in a timely fashion and also the issue of how to allow people the space and time to deliberate without damaging the language. The delegates and members have come up with proposals, on which we should formally follow up. We have written formally to the SEUPB inviting it to appear before the committee; no doubt members will be able to make a direct intervention on behalf of the delegates.
On the second issue relating to the broadcasting fund, subject to the agreement of members, we can write formally to the Taoiseach who has continual engagement with the British Prime Minister. Is it agreed that we formally contact the Taoiseach? Agreed.
Mr. Ó Catháin's comments are helpful. I am aware the Special EU Programmes Body has, until now, operated via local authorities. This has been done for reasons of financial prudence because the local authorities have financial expertise available to them. Notwithstanding this, we should be conscious of groups such as Glór na nGael and Coiste Céim Aniar in my parish of Rosguill. If Glór na nGael believes Foras na Gaeilge, an Irish language umbrella group, has expertise in accounting and finance and would be able to provide prudent financial management, the committee will certainly convey that message.
Mr. Francie Molloy:
This is an important time to raise this issue as the new cross-Border and PEACE IV programmes are being put together. It is important that the next round of funding is allocated based on the needs of the area. Often, programmes are put together first and communities subsequently try to match their needs to them. It is important at this stage to include needs in the programme as this would make it easier to process applications.
We all agree on that. On the issue of the North-South Ministerial Council and possible cutbacks in funding for representative groups in Northern Ireland, the appropriate persons for the joint committee to contact are the Minister of State, Deputy Dinny McGinley, and the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure in the North, Ms Carál Ní Chuilín. I am aware that funding has been extended until the end of this year and deliberations and negotiations are set to continue. I propose that the joint committee formally write to the Ministers on the issue. Is that agreed? Agreed.
The joint committee tries as best it can to promote itself as an honest broker in terms of the implementation of the Good Friday Agreement. We are a little handicapped in this respect as we do not have Unionist representation. However, the absence of Unionist representatives makes us more conscious of the need to strike a balance. What we can offer to the groups before us is constant involvement and engagement. Significant dialogue appears to be needed to achieve the outcome our guests are seeking. If the committee can assist in this conversation, those present should feel free to contact us as part of their deliberations. As Mr. Mac Póilín pointed out, his organisation is meeting increasing numbers of Gaelgeoirí and Irish language groups.
I suggest we write to the Taoiseach asking him to outline a strategy and a timetable for the Irish language Act and requesting that he indicate what steps he will take to achieve this objective.
We can include a transcript of this meeting in our correspondence with the Taoiseach on the Broadcasting Act. It may also be worthwhile to circulate the various proposals and suggestions to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister. Deputy Ó Snodaigh referred to a timetable. While I may be reading the position incorrectly, it may not be helpful to refer to a timetable. What appears to be required from the joint committee in terms of pursuing this issue is greater engagement on how we achieve the desired outcome.
While I am not a member of the joint committee - I am deputising at this meeting - I am aware that the reason it was established was to pursue the implementation of certain unfulfilled elements of the Good Friday Agreement. The St. Andrews Agreement, an international agreement that flowed from the Good Friday Agreement, included a commitment to introduce an Irish language Act.
I apologise for interrupting, but the Government has clearly stated it supports an Irish language Act. This legislation needs to be implemented and there is no question about the fact that we are on the same page on the issue.
The reason the joint committee was established was to try to make progress in implementing the Good Friday Agreement. We have been asked to write to the Taoiseach specifically requesting that he indicate how and when progress will be made on the implementation of an Irish language Act. The First Minister, Deputy First Minister and British Prime Minister, who also have a duty in this regard, should be circulated with the letter. The primary duty for an Irish language Act lies with the British Prime Minister and the Taoiseach, because they signed the Agreement. It is their responsibility, even if the duty for implementing the legislation falls on the Assembly.
That is not a problem. The committee can reaffirm its support for an Irish language Act. Clearly, a conversation is needed on how we will achieve that outcome. That is the area in which the committee will act by assisting this conversation in the best way possible. I propose to conclude the meeting.
While I agree with Deputy Ó Snodaigh on this issue, as we all want an Irish language Act to be introduced, the joint committee must also be mindful of Ms Ervine's comments that there are complications. While we aspire to achieving the implementation of an Irish language Act, we must be cognisant of Ms Ervine's comments, which should be referred to in the letter.
Ms Janet Muller:
This has been a very interesting meeting. The clear message to emerge from our discussion is that the best way forward in terms of the strategy is to have a commitment for a timescale to enact an Irish language Act. I ask the joint committee to write to all the entities that have been mentioned - namely, the British Government, the Taoiseach and the offices of the First and Deputy First Ministers - requesting that a timescale be set for the enactment of rights-based, comprehensive Irish language legislation and that from that date, we work towards preparing for the enactment of the legislation. Without such a commitment or timescale, we will simply not move forward, even on the issues that Ms Ervine raised.
We are clear that, as an implementation committee, we are working towards the implementation of outstanding elements of the Good Friday Agreement, including the Irish language Act, a bill of rights and the establishment of a North-South civic forum. I will conclude proceedings as we have exceeded our time. I thank members and the contributors for their excellent presentations and look forward to working with them in future.