New language bill will give Irish ‘official status’ in NI

Irish language legislation – including provision for a powerful Irish language commissioner – will be introduced at Westminster on Wednesday, the Northern Ireland secretary has said.

By Mark Rainey
Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 10:29 pm
Updated Tuesday, 24th May 2022, 10:51 pm
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis during a BBC appearance .
Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis during a BBC appearance .

Describing the new bill as a “significant milestone,” Brandon Lewis said the government will also provide £4 million to an Irish Language Investment Fund, as well as legislating to enhance the “development of the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition”.

The Identity and Language (NI) Bill “will deliver a balanced package of measures for Northern Ireland on identity and language, fulfilling the commitments set out in New Decade, New Approach (NDNA),” the government said.

It will also “deliver measures to promote and respect Northern Ireland’s diverse national, cultural and linguistic identities, provide for the recognition and protection of the Irish language and the development of the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition and create two commissioners and an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, which will benefit everyone in Northern Ireland.”

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Mr Lewis said the bill will “ensure the principles of respect and tolerance as stated in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement,” and “represents a significant milestone ... in laying down a new cultural framework for the people of Northern Ireland. This legislation is carefully balanced, as negotiated by all parties, to ensure everyone in NI benefits”.

In a statement on Tuesday night, the government said: “The Bill will amend the Northern Ireland Act to allow for the establishment of three new public authorities in Northern Ireland, including an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity, alongside Commissioners on the Irish language and the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition.

The Irish language, which will be granted official status in Northern Ireland, will be protected by a new Commissioner, tasked with developing best practice standards for public authorities to follow. These standards, which will be subject to approval, will help to facilitate interaction between Irish-speaking service users and public bodies.

“A further commissioner will work to enhance and develop the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition, and will promote Ulster Scots services provided by public authorities.”

The statement goes on to say: “Following Executive failure to progress the legislation through the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland committed to bringing the legislation through Parliament.

“In addition to the legislation, the UK Government has also announced the delivery of two of its own New Decade, New Approach commitments. The Government is officially giving recognition to Ulster Scots as a National Minority under the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, a status already accorded to Irish, Welsh and Scots, and since 2014, Cornish, among others.”