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Irish citizenship, Irish identity and Language rights essential to power sharing - Kearney

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» Declan Kearney

Sinn Féin National Chairperson

Irish language rights, and those many other social, economic and democratic rights and provisions are not bargaining chips. They are much bigger than any manufactured hierarchy of rights. They are core to the transformation of society and the sustainability of good politics.

Language rights are enjoyed by citizen everywhere on these islands except the north of Ireland. This is unacceptable.

Of course, Irish language rights are not the only rights which need to be properly addressed to ensure that the ongoing political crisis is resolved and the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) political institutions are restored on a sustainable basis.

The Equality Coalition has published an excellent manifesto on a rights-based return to power sharing which deserves to be read and widely circulated.

It succinctly sets out the full extent of the rights deficit in the north of Ireland arising from the failure to give full and faithful expression to the provisions of the GFA, and all succeeding agreements since 1998: These also include what has been agreed, but not implemented from previous Programmes for Government.

However, Irish Language rights entrenched and protected within legislation - an Acht Gaeilge - are an essential foundation for a sustainable political process, built upon proper power sharing institutions, which are themselves avowedly anti-sectarian and fully inclusive of all sections of society in the north.

There is an attempt to manufacture a hierarchy of rights which diminishes the significance of the Irish language and seeks to isolate it as the only blockage to restoration of the Executive and Assembly.

At its most benign that would be a lazy logic which completely misses the point, but it is in fact, an utterly duplicitous position promoted to justify restoring the political institutions without resolving the catalogue of reasons which led to their collapse, as set out in Martin McGuinness’ resignation letter of 9th January 2017.

Delivery on the obligation set by the St Andrew’s Agreement of 2006 to legislate for an Irish Language Act is about much more than comprehensive, free standing legislation to entrench the rights of Irish speakers in the north of Ireland, or secure rights and services for the more than 5,500 children currently taught through the Irish medium education every week, and so they can lead their future lives through Irish.

At its core, delivery on Acht Gaeilge is about recognition and respect for the Irish national and cultural identity in the north of Ireland. Currently the British government has reneged on the rights of citizens to Irish citizenship as set out in the Good Friday Agreement.

This gave equal status, and legitimacy, and parity of esteem to both the Irish and British identities in the north.

The fact is that significant sections of political unionism and successive British Governments have refused to accept or implement those obligations.

Irish identity, Irish citizenship and the Irish language (like Gaelic games, music and dance) is completely enmeshed with the reality that hundreds of thousands of people in the north of Ireland identify with the overwhelming population of this island as Irish citizens.

They view the language as a tangible manifestation of their Irish national and cultural identity.

The Irish language in the north of Ireland has always been an expression of an innate sense of Irish identity and belonging, which is totally distinct from Britishness, or connection to the British state.

These are touchstone issues. They are equality issues. They are identity issues.

That is why the demonising and weaponising of the Irish language by some political leaders and others within political unionism have caused such outrage and offence.

Discrimination against, and disrespect towards the Irish language and Irish national identity has been a lightning rod for fomenting discontent within northern nationalism, and other progressive sections of opinion, because it communicates a message of exclusion and being less equal.

Just last week it was revealed that Antrim and Newtownabbey Borough council issued........

© An Phoblacht