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15 May 2018

Local Irish language community development organisation, Cairde Teo, joined a delegation last week to meet with a number of international experts charged with assessing how the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages has been put into effect in the north of Ireland. The official on-the-spot visit on Monday 14th May was co-ordinated by POBAL, the independent advocacy organisation for the Irish speaking community. POBAL organised two information sessions on Irish Medium education and another one on a range of issues arising from Part III of the Charter.

Speaking after the on-the-spot visit, Janet Muller, director of POBAL said, “We invited Irish language specialists from a wide range of organisations to meet the Experts and give their views on specific matters such as the media, vocational education, Early Years provision, resources and so on.’ Cairde Teo were represented by Irish language officer Seán Ó Maoilsté, who spoke about Irish langauge arts provision and Irish language signage. “We got the opportunity to speak about a wide range of aspects covered in the European Charter and it was evident that the representatives from the Committee of Experts were disappointed at the lack of progress at the local authority level in a number of council areas and at regional level. The Experts also backed the call for an Irish language act to protect the language from political attacks such as the withdrawal of the Líofa scholarship scheme and the renaming of the ‘Banríon Uladh’ boat to remove the Irish language.” Among the other representatives taking part in the sessions were Comhairle na Gaelscolaíochta, the body responsible for the development of Irish medium education in the north of Ireland, An tÁisaonad, Armagh-based Gael-Linn, An Droichead cultural centre from Belfast, Conradh na Gaeilge, Gaelchúrsaí and Turas, the Irish language project based on the Newtownards Road. During the visit, the Experts also met with government officials and with Ulster Scots organisations.

Janet Muller, POBAL’s Director met with the Experts and encouraged them to raise the issue of the Irish language Act with the UK government. Janet said, ‘The Experts understand how difficult the situation has been for Irish here, and we were also able to present new research we have carried out into Irish Medium education and the application of the Charter in local Councils, the courts and other institutions. The Committee of Experts (COMEX) on the Charter have recognised the many years of work POBAL has done on monitoring the Charter and the briefing sessions helped them get an updated picture of the state of the Irish language here and now. This is particularly important given the failure of recent talks at the level of the political institutions and the centrality of the Irish language in that process.

Janet continued, ‘Our monitoring and the expert work of the delegation is crucial since once again, the UK government has failed to present any information whatsoever to the Council of Europe as to the application of the Charter here. This situation has now continued since the re-establishment of devolution in 2007, because of the failure of the Executive Office to agree on a report, and now of course because of the suspension of the Assembly. This means that the work that POBAL, as a non-governmental organisation is vitally important in informing international opinion on the circumstances of the Irish language. The Experts’ last report was in 2014, at which time they recognised small areas of progress but were also highly critical of failures, and they were keen to hear what we had to say about the current status of the Irish language and what has happened since 2014.’

The following members of the Committee of Experts were present, Dr Aleksandra Oszmiańska-Pagett, Rapporteur on the UK, committee member in respect of Poland; Prof. Dr Gerard René de Groot, committee member in respect of The Netherlands and Prof. Matthew MacIver, committee member in respect of the United Kingdom, along with Joerg Horn of the Council of Europe Charter secretariat. Speaking after the meeting, Dr Aleksandra said of an Irish language act, “From a practical point of view, an Irish language act is essential because then, education, culture and media are not held hostage to political tensions.”