Pupils and teachers hold protests over Irish language legislation deadlock in Northern Ireland

Pupils and teachers hold protests over Irish language legislation deadlock in Northern Ireland

Pupils from Irish medium schools in Northern Ireland have rallied outside Stormont to protest at the ongoing deadlock over the introduction of language legislation.

About 100 pupils from primary and secondary schools attended, along with teachers and activists.

Campaigners wore red tape across their mouths and stood in silence to protest the ways in which they claim the Irish language community is being silenced due to the lack of an Irish language act in Northern Ireland.

The issue is at the heart of the impasse preventing the restoration of powersharing at Stormont.

Sinn Fein has said it will not return to a coalition executive with the Democratic Unionists unless they agree to the introduction of a standalone Irish language act.

The DUP has proposed a "cross-community" bill which would include provisions for Ulster Scots, as well as Irish, but Sinn Fein has rejected the suggestion.

In a recent interview, DUP leader Arlene Foster claimed the Irish language issue was being used by Sinn Fein "as a way to humiliate unionists".

At the steps of Parliament Buildings, Stormont, protesters unfurled a bilingual banner asking of Mrs Foster in both Irish and English "Arlene, do my rights humiliate you?"

Sinn Fein leader Michelle O'Neill was among those attending, along with party Assembly members Caral Ni Chuilin, Conor Murphy and Gerry Kelly, as well as People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll.

Mrs O'Neill said: "The message is very clear, these young people have come here to say that their language rights humiliate no-one.

"They're asking for their rights to be protected in legislation, it's very, very reasonable.

"It's about two things: a practical affording of their rights and also a recognition that their Irish national identity should be respected by the government."

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, spokesman for the Irish language act campaign, said: "There is increasingly more and more support for a standalone Irish language act from broad sections of the community and that is being accompanied with an ever-growing understanding across society that language rights are human rights.

"Irish speakers have been voiceless for too long and there is still clear opposition and obstruction to the language being seen or heard in this state.

"The Irish language community is saying in one voice today: those days are over."

Katy Rose Mead, an upper sixth pupil at Colaiste Feirste school, said: "We've been protesting this for many years and it puts a real dampener on your mood to see that we're still having to after all these years.

"But we can see how the Irish language community will always rally round to protest, in our hundreds and thousands.

"Statements that the language is somehow a weapon are just crazy.

"Learning any language gives you a new perspective on the world, it helps you develop, so it's always good to have numerous languages, especially here in Ireland, where we can learn a lot from our ancestors."

Activists claim Stormont has not fulfilled promises made in the 2006 St Andrew's Agreement that an Irish language act would be introduced for the region.

However, the DUP have said they are opposed to the introduction of the legislation and insist any commitment made at St Andrews was made by the UK Government, not the DUP.

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