Unionists reject Euro report on Irish language

Diane Dodds MEP
Diane Dodds MEP

Unionists have defended the Northern Ireland Executive’s policy on the Irish language following criticism from a major EU body.

In a new report, the Council of Europe said that a “persisting hostile climate” exists in the Stormont Assembly and that more should be done to promote the language.

Using information provided by various governments, every three years the council compiles a report on the state of minority languages, including Welsh and Scottish Gaelic.

DUP MEP Diane Dodds has dismissed the report, saying the Irish language is “funded and supported by the Executive in line with its commitments”.

Mrs Dodds said the focus for public expenditure in difficult economic time must be on vital public services.

“The report from the Council of Europe in relation to the Irish language takes a long list of aims, objectives and grievances from Irish language activist groups and places them in list form within the report.

“It is of course unsurprising that such groups will always want to see greater and greater use of Irish. It is worth noting that the Executive does meet its commitments in law, including the St Andrews Agreement.”

Ulster Unionist culture spokesman Michael McGimpsey said: “The Council of Europe cannot make binding laws and seems oblivious to the fact that the 1998 Belfast Agreement was the settlement regarding minority languages in Northern Ireland and we have fulfilled our obligations under it.

“There are a number of human rights issues within European borders which the Council of Europe should be busying itself with. The position of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is not one of them.”

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams welcomed the report.

He said the Irish language “threatens no one” and added: “There is an onus on the British and Irish governments to support the Irish language and to ensure the introduction of an Irish Language Act.”