There is ‘no evidence’ that Irish speakers are ‘marginalised second-class citizens’ says former education minister

A former education minister has said there is “no evidence” that Irish language speakers are being treated as second-class citizens.

A former education minister has said there is “no evidence” that Irish language speakers are being treated as second-class citizens.

DUP man Peter Weir’s comments come after a three-page advert was published in the Irish News, under the banner “An Dream Dearg”.

This included the names of about 1,000 signatories from different walks of life in Northern Ireland, who demanded that an Irish language act be brought into being right away.

Michelle O'Neill

The signatories include:
> Prof Phil Scraton, a QUB academic best known for his work on the Hillsborough tragedy;

> Elizabeth Delude-Dix, a film-maker based in Rhode Is., USA;

> Paul Bilbao Sarria, a member of the Basque Language Council;

> Tadgh Hickey, described on his website as “a (so-called) comedian” and writer/musician;

> and Michael Conlan, the Belfast former Olympic boxer.

A RED DREAM:

An Dream Dearg means something like ‘Red Group’ in English.

It is not an official group, in that it isn’t registered with either The Charity Commission or Comapanies House (the official UK list of firms, including non-profit ones).

It is not obvious whether it has a formal leadership structure or not.

The ad in the Irish News is addressed to “the British and Irish governments and all political parties in the north”.

It complains of “the persisting failure to implement long-standing human rights commitments” – particularly a language act.

This, the advert says, represents “an insult to the generations of Irish speakers who have campaigned and lobbied for language rights and respec”.

It adds: “No government, minister or political party can be allowed to facilitate the continued marginalisation and exclusion of our community. The days of Irish speakers being treated as second class citizens are over.”

‘NO-ONE IS BARRED FROM SPEAKING IRISH’:

Mr Weir was education minister from springtime 2016 until summertime last year (albeit with a three-year interruption to the Assembly in the middle of that).

He was asked about the assertion that Irish speakers are “marginalised” and have their “rights denied”.

“I think there’s no evidence to bear that out,” he said.

“If you’re making an allegation, then I think you’ve got to bear that out with an evidential basis.”

He also said: “There clearly has been a lot of support that’s been given officially and financially to the Irish langauge sector... It’s very clear that, for example, Irish language education is funded.

“No-one is denied the right to speak or use any language.”

In 2018, the Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition commission found that Stormont departments had spent £190.6m on Irish language resources over the previous seven years. Most of that (some £150m) had gone on Irish-medium schools.

The 2011 census had found that Irish was the main language of only 4,045 people in Northern Ireland, far below Polish (17,340) and Lithuanian (6,051).

Mr Weir added that most ordinary members of the public are “crying out actually much more on practical issues than any form of ‘denial of rights’” and that simple matters like the cost of fuel are much more of a priority.

He also said that there are committments from Westminster which the DUP is very keen to see fulfilled too: not least “a number of government pledges to ensure there’d be no barriers in terms of the internal market”.

More from this reporter:

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