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Thousands of Irish speakers march to city centre

By Francesca Ryan

by Francesca Ryan

f.ryan@belfastmediagroup.com

Thousands of Irish speakers and supporters of the language from across the country are set to converge on West Belfast this Saturday for a protest march into the city centre.

An Lá Dearg is part of an organised national campaign to highlight and protest at the lack of rights and equality for the Irish speaking community – North and South – and  governmental antipathy to the Gaeltacht, the 20-Year Plan in the south and the Irish Language Act in the north.

Hundreds of Gaels will be arriving by bus from as far as Dublin, Galway, Meath, Donegal and Derry to show their support. The mass demonstration comes in the wake of criticism from Europe about the provision of Irish in the North and follows a similar mass demonstration in Dublin in February which attracted up to 10,000  language protestors.

The European Commission confirmed in January that the power-sharing Executive here is failing in their responsibilities with regards to the Irish language and that they are preventing the growth and promotion of the language in the north. The spotlight was shone on the hostile attitude of some elected representatives and the ongoing failure by the Executive as a whole to protect and promote the Irish language as required by international and domestic law.

Ahead of the weekend, language activists from the Lá Dearg campaign have been rallying support on social media through YouTube videos and postering parts of Belfast in preparation for the event.  They have also been visiting Gaelscoileanna in West Belfast to explain to pupils what is taking place and why.

“An Lá Dearg demonstration is not the end of a campaign, but the start of a national re-awakening that will involve the Irish language community across Ireland making their voices heard in the longer-term,” said local campaign committee member, Hugh Corcoran.

“This is not about the past or the present, but the future, and every elected representative in Ireland, north and south, has responsibilities with regards that future. Irish speakers in the north are demanding the long-promised, rights-based Irish Language Act, a properly resourced Irish medium education system from pre-school through post-primary to third level and adequate resources for the Irish language community, which is particularly pertinent in the present time when established Irish language organisations are having their funding slashed by government cuts.

“This is about schools, children, teachers, workers, parents and families who have rights and entitlements. It’s about the ongoing failure to protect and promote the rights of all of those citizens as required by law.

“The most energising element to this campaign is that it is community-based and has developed organically from the bottom up. It has gained a massive cross-section of support from a very wide variety of organisations and communities from across the country who are ready and willing to stand up and be counted.”

Distributing posters this week was 17-year-old Coláiste Feirste student Aoife Nic Giolla Earnáin. The Ardoyne girl spoke of the human impact of the ongoing failure to protect the rights of Irish speakers, young and old.

“Every day I have to take two buses to school and that costs my mother four bus fares a day,” she said.  “When we went to court, the judge said we deserved a bus for Irish medium pupils, the same as other schools. But the Department of Education has denied us a bus pass and suggested that we walk across the Shankill in Coláiste Feirste uniforms to the Falls Road in West Belfast.

“That’s just not possible and its madness to suggest otherwise. That’s why we need a bus that provides proper access to Irish medium schools. That’s why we need protection and support from the people we elect. My mother can’t afford to pay for the state’s failure to protect my rights. That’s why I’m ‘Dearg le Fearg’ (red with anger) and on the organising committee and that’s why I’ll be marching on Saturday.”

Janet Muller, CEO of Pobal, the umbrella advocacy organisation for the Irish language, said promises have been broken in the past.

 

Crucial

“Pobal has driven forward the campaign for the Irish Language Act that was promised in the St Andrews Agreement,” she said.  “Rights are crucial because the promises made have not been met and resources are being cut. Foras na Gaeilge has taken disastrous decisions in recent weeks to end core funding to all the Irish language organisations in the north and to axe Irish language magazines as well.

“These decisions will dismantle the already under-developed Irish language support structure.  Expertise, skills, knowledge, services and jobs will all be lost.  Senior managers of the only six organisations Foras will fund from July 1 are all from the south and based in and around Dublin. A few token posts for northerners will not plug the experience gap when decisions are being taken.

“There will be more bureaucracy and a danger that Foras na Gaeilge will undermine the independence of the Irish language sector even more as time goes on.  It is time to say enough is enough, stop the cuts and save the Irish language organisations in the north, Pobal, Altram and Iontaobhas Ultach, before it is too late.”

Hugh said everyone who feels strongly about the language is welcome to attend the event, which will have a positive vibe.

“We welcome everyone who believes in the future of the Irish language and in human rights in general,” he said. “The language belongs to all of us and it needs to be an integral part of our future. An Lá Dearg will also have a very positive ethos of celebration involving music and song and all that is best in our community revival. It promises to be enjoyable for children and families. We appeal to people in West Belfast to come out in support of an Lá Dearg! Bigí linn!”

The march starts at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road at 2pm and will make its way to Custom House Square in the city centre.

For more information contact ladearg@gmail.com, call Feargal 07841101630 or find La Dearg on Facebook and Twitter.

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