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Sinn Féin MEP defends the use of the Irish language in the EU

28 January, 2008

In a response to a statement by Jim Nicholson MEP on the use of the Irish language in the European Parliament, Sinn Féin MEP, Bairbre de Brún has said,

"It is ironic that Jim Nicholson has chosen to attack the Irish language at a time when the UN has designated 2008 as the International Year of Languages. Mr. Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO said recently, "Whether it be through initiatives in the fields of education, cyberspace or the literate environment; be it through projects to safeguard endangered languages or to promote languages as a tool for social integration; or to explore the relationship between languages and the economy, languages and indigenous knowledge or languages and creation, it is important that the idea that 'languages matter!' be promoted everywhere".

"The Irish language is an official and working language of the EU and will remain so alongside the other twenty-two official languages. Mr Nicholson must surely be aware of this given his position in the European Parliament. There is a temporary derogation which means that not all legislation must be in Irish as yet and it is this temporary derogation only that will be reviewed in the course of its first five years.

"Mr Nicholson is also aware that the European Parliament functions somewhat differently to the national parliaments or to the Assembly. The bulk of the work on legislation and other reports is carried out in committee for which as yet no interpretation from Irish is available. There are 785 MEPs in the European Parliament, which sits in plenary session for about four days per month. Speaking time is at a premium and speeches in plenary regularly last only a minute or two. Comments on the amount of time MEPs spoke in Irish or indeed in any other of the smaller languages need to be seen in this context. The European Parliament has consistently voted to continue to use all languages and not just the major ones.

"Jim Nicholson's comments and his call for a non-existent review to be brought forward can only be seen as a publicity stunt in line with his party's tirade against the Irish language in the Assembly. Over two million people in Ireland can speak the Irish language and 160,000 of those are constituents of Mr Nicholson and me. What message is his negativity and mono-culturalism sending to the people of this constituency and beyond?

"I shall continue to speak Irish in the European parliament as I did in the Assembly and to lobby for those Irish speakers who do not have legislative protections as yet in the six counties. I hope that in time Jim Nicholson can come to respect the multilingual ethos of the EU and to represent that openly and fairly to all his constituents." Críoch

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