There was a victory in the Courts for supporters of the Irish Language.
But they still maintain that an Irish Language Act is needed urgently.
Justice Maguire (3 March 2017) announced his historic decision in the High-Court in Belfast ruling in favour of Conradh na Gaeilge as they took a judicial review challenging the failure of the Executive to adopt an Irish-language Strategy (2015-35) as was promised in St Andrew’s Agreement (2006) and the Executive’s programme for Government 2011-2015.
Former Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure, Carál Ní Chuilín, launched the Strategy to Enhance and Protect the Development of the Irish Language 2015-2035 on 30 January 2015, but the Executive failed to adapt the Irish-Language Strategy, as was agreed in their own Programme for Government 2011-15, as per its legislative obligations. ‘Application for Leave’ for the case was granted to Conradh na Gaeilge in May 2016 and the case was heard in full in the High-Court on 8 February 2017.
The Judge also ruled that the Executive failed to comply with its duty pursuant to section 28d of the NI Act 1998.
Dr Niall Comer, President of Conradh na Gaeilge said: “Conradh na Gaeilge welcomes this historic decision in the High-Court today, a ruling that proves that Irish-language based cases can be won in the north. Conradh na Gaeilge always maintained there was no need for this case, that the Executives’ obligations were clear from the beginning, obligations that stem from the St Andrews Agreement.
“Instead of implementing their commitments over the last ten years, certain parties have opposed a development strategy for the Irish-language. The law has confirmed today, however, that there must be an end to the delay and to the pretence. “
Julian de Spáinn, General-Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge, said: “In a way this is a very simple case. There is a statutory duty on the Executive to implement an Irish-language Strategy to develop and protect the language; this wasn’t fulfilled and they cannot claim otherwise any longer.
“Looking at the Judge’s decision today, there is a pressing need for a strategy without any further delay. The strategy will reinforce the community based development in the north through the state-provision of the necessary resources and infrastructure for the Irish-language community. We are talking about simple measures relating to children, Irish at home, visibility of the language; things that will make a demonstrable difference to the increasing numbers of people living their lives through Irish.
“There is a duty on the Executive to bring about a strategy and an act in the north. These promises were the cornerstone of the peace-process regarding the language and as we enter a very uncertain period for the Executive, there is added pressure on the state to ensure rights and protection of the Irish-language community. Conradh na Gaeilge maintains that the only way to guarantee these developments is through protective legislation for the language in the form of an Act.”
Conradh na Gaeilge commends the work of its legal team, especially solicitor Mícheál Ó Flannagáin, alongside the support of PILS throughout the case.
POBAL, the advocacy organization for the Irish speaking community, has welcomed the judgement of High Court that the executive failed in its duty by not adopting an Irish language strategy in the last ten years since the 2007 St. Andrews Act.
Janet Muller, POBAL’s Director said: “This is a positive judgement for Irish speakers in the case today taken by Conradh na Gaeilge a month ago for the Irish speaking community.
“We worked with experts from the community in Irish language media and education, with Irish speakers and academic and legal experts to compile proposals and they influenced the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure when they were preparing their own documents.
“The Department then commissioned POBAL to organise a community consultation on the Department’s discussion document, and again, the results of our work can be seen in the Department’s own final proposals. This is the document which was put to and rejected by the Executive in January 2016. So, it is understandable that we would have a major interest in the court’s ruling, and we will be keeping an eye on developments from now on.
Janet Muller added: “The ruling today has left some questions unanswered. There is no Executive at the moment, so we must assume this issue will be part of political talks in the coming weeks. Will the strategy as it was put to the Executive previously be adopted? Will the parties that rejected it then demand major changes? Or will it be a matter of a new strategy altogether? In that case, who will be responsible for drafting it, what will their attitude be to Irish and how long will a new strategy take?
“Of course, a strategy is not the same as an Act. A strategy is a plan to achieve particular goals but without legislation, we will still be depending on good will. We are pleased with today’s decision, but also absolutely certain that the Irish speaking community will not accept a sop or tokenism. A strategy is not enough – we need a strong, comprehensive Act as well, and we need it urgently.”