Defendants in court cases in the North would have the right to give evidence in Irish under new proposals to protect the rights of Irish speakers launched today.
Anyone appearing in the dock, witness stand or jury bench would be allowed to use the language when addressing the court, under the terms of a Stormont Bill tabled by the SDLP after the British government rejected plans to introduce an Irish Language Act earlier this year.
The refusal of the Democratic Unionists to give the go ahead for legislation to protect the language was one of the issues at the heart of the recent impasse in DUP/Sinn Féin-led power sharing administration.
While a deal has now been struck on the contentious issue of devolving policing and justice powers, agreement on the future of Irish language policy has still not been reached.
The SDLP Bill, which was drafted by SDLP Newry and Armagh member Dominic Bradley, is the party’s attempt to inject renewed impetus to an issue that has become bogged down in political wrangling.
As well as incorporating Irish into the judicial system, the so-called ’Bradley Bill’ will require recognition of Irish in all public spheres, including education, employment and within the region’s political institutions.
The legislation, which the SDLP estimate would cost £25m (€29.7) over five years, would also see the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner to act as a public champion for the language.
Mr Bradley said he did not envisage any practical difficulties with introducing the measures to the judicial system as translators were already employed to aid foreign nationals appearing before courts.
Mr Bradley expects his Bill to be debated in the assembly early next year.
With unionists still set against any form of Act it remains however doubtful whether the SDLP proposals will ever find their way onto the statute given the need for cross-community backing on the assembly floor.