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Another missed opportunity on use of Irish language

18 March, 2004

Sinn Fein spokesperson on EU affairs, West Belfast MLA Bairbre de Brún has described as a 'missed opportunity' the publication of general policy advice, information and guidance on meeting the obligations in respect of Irish and Ulster-Scots by the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure. Ms de Brún has said that it is disappointing that DCAL took a minimalist approach in giving guidance to officials, particularly where the use of Irish is concerned.

Ms de Brún said:

'The commitments the British Government made when the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages was signed and ratified must be upheld. To do this officials in government departments and associated bodies need to be made aware of the extent of the obligations this places on them. Emphasising Article 10 only and referring them to their own Departments for any further guidance on the other articles is a missed opportunity if not a downright cop-out.

"The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages is designed to protect and promote regional or minority languages as a threatened aspect of Europe's cultural heritage.

"The British Government signed the Charter on 2 March 2000 and ratified on 27 March 2001. It came into force on 1 July 2001.

"Irish speakers who have waited over two and half years for DCAL to publish these guidelines were clearly expecting a more fulsome promotion of the 36 provision that the British government signed up to in relation to Irish here. Yet all we have here is guidance about one aspect of this, in relation to Article 10 of the Charter. Telling officials to inform themselves about all other aspects of their responsibilities or to check with their own departments is just not good enough. The impression is given that it will suffice for officials to give a nod in the direction of Article 10 only. It will not.

"The guidance also continues to give the erroneous impression that there is a direct correlation between Irish and Ulster Scots. This is not the case either for the Charter or for the Good Friday Agreement.

"The European Charter places a responsibility not just in relation to day-to-day dealing with the public, but also in specific areas such as research, education, training and the media.

"It requires, for example, that resources be made available across all the education sectors and that the British government address the issue of Irish language broadcasting.

"Sinn Féin will continue to raise the issue of Irish language rights in the Review and specifically the need for an Irish language Act and Irish language Commissioner.

"The guidance issued today represnts a missed opportunity. This does not bode well for that aspect of the Review."ENDS

Note to Editors

This means, for example, that there is a responsibility to:

· Ensure that users of minority languages are not excluded from society

· Include language users in the decision-making processes that affect their language

· Take resolute action to promote regional or minority languages

· Ensure that languages are dealt with appropriately within the education system.

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