Call for Irish language support
Published 16/01/2014 | 01:52
Growth and promotion of the Irish language in Northern Ireland is being blocked by hostile attitudes in Stormont and a lack of support for its use in the courts and in education, according to the Council of Europe.
European chiefs have warned authorities they may also be in breach of a charter of rights because of delays and attempts to block requests for bilingual street names.
The review of minority languages in the UK said the Government has not been able to justify banning the use of Irish in the courts or allowing people to take citizenship tests through the language.
The Council of Europe criticised attitudes to Irish in some official circles and what it said is the Stormont Assembly's "persisting hostile climate".
Caral Ni Chuilin, Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure who is responsible for overall promotion of the language, said she would bring in new legislation during the current Assembly term.
"There is a large body of support for an Irish Language Act in the North," she said.
"As languages are now a devolved matter full legislation will require the agreement of the Executive and Assembly. I hope that all supporters of the Irish language will work together to convince the Executive, the Assembly and all our people of the merits of supporting an Irish Language Act."
Ms Ni Chuilin said her Liofa campaign to promote the language also showed the room for cross community support.
The report from the Council of Europe also looked at the standing of Welsh, Scottish Gaelic, Cornish, and Ulster Scots which it said has improved even if it " still remains absent from public life".
The review team hit out at a lack of political consensus in Northern Ireland on the language and the lack of a long-awaited Irish Language Act.
In education it found many obs tacles hampering an adequate offering of Irish-medium pre-schools and it called for concrete steps to be taken to meet the growth in demand for primary education in Irish.
It raised concerns that the Colaiste Feirste secondary school still suffers from lack of free school transport, despite having won a judicial review case against the Department of Education on the issue, and increased efforts are needed to overcome the shortage of teachers for specialist subjects in secondary education.
It called for new measures to allow for simultaneous translation in the Assembly.
Overall the panel of experts from the Strasbourg-based Council - Europe's leading human rights agency - found many difficulties persist in the development of Irish.
It said work has been hampered by a lack of information from the authorities and t he UK Government was also criticised for late and incomplete responses to requests for information about the standing of Irish in Northern Ireland.
In repsonse to issues on road signs, the Department of Regional Development said: "Early in 2012 the Minister for Regional Development (Danny Kennedy) decided not to pursue the matter and no further work has been undertaken since."