4 October 2007 Edition

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UUP and DUP attack Irish-language rights

THE news that Health Minister Michael McGimpsey is to halt the use of Irish in job advertisements and press releases from his department is being described as an attack on the Irish language.
Irish-language campaigners criticised the Health Minister’s move, announced in Stormont on Monday 1 October, accusing him of ‘anti-Irish bias’.
Irish-language activist Bríd Ní Chianain said:
“At a time when Irish speakers are campaigning for the implementation of the Irish Language Act pledged in the St Andrew’s Agreement, the announcement by Michael McGimpsey is a slap in the face to the Irish-language community.
“For Michael McGimpsey to hide behind the argument that it cost the Department £151,000, over a five-year period, to translate the advertisements into Irish is to ignore the demand for equality for the Irish language.”
Bríd Ní Chianain said that the numbers of people speaking Irish and educating their children through Irish is increasing all the time.
“This attempt to marginalise Irish by the Health Minister can only be seen as part of the wider anti-Irish campaign being waged by unionists.”

Reacting to McGimpsey’s about-turn on the Irish language, former Health Minister Bairbre de Brún MEP said that, in a pluralist society, the provision of services, including health services, must include more than just the English language.
She explained that, during the direct rule period, the British Government had previously reported to the Committee of Experts of the Council of Europe on the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages, telling them of the work carried out to provide services through Irish for Irish speakers.
“Those monitoring the implementation of the Charter had actually asked for further services to be delivered in education and the media and Sinn Féin believes that the Committee of Experts will be concerned and surprised to hear that a local minister is now reducing rather than increasing the provision of services to Irish speakers,” she said, urging Minister McGimpsey to reconsider his decision.

Meanwhile, in a second attack on Irish-language provision by state bodies, the DUP’s Sammy Wilson criticised the Council for Curriculum Examinations and Assessment (CCEA) for issuing 11+ examination practice papers to Irish-medium schools free while English-language schools pay for the papers.
Dismissing Wilson’s claim that the CCEA discriminates in favour of Irish-medium schools, a spokesperson for the exams body said:
“The Irish-medium practice papers are available on the CCEA website in order to fulfil our commitment to the Irish-medium sector and in order to address the lack of commercially available transfer test support materials in Irish.
“Teachers and pupils in English-speaking schools have a wide choice of practice materials available to them commercially.”
Despite these attacks on the Irish language, the campaign for the implementation of the Irish Language Act is continuing. Last Saturday, 29 September, saw a family fun day take place in Belfast’s Waterfront Hall.
The Lá Mór Acht na Gaeilge, organised by the Irish-language umbrella group Pobal, brought hundreds of people, young and old, to the venue overlooking the River Lagan.
Pobal spokesperson Janet Muller described Saturday’s fun day as “excellent”. She said:
“We wanted to focus on the needs of Irish speakers in the context of the liveliness and youthfulness of the Irish-speaking community and I think we’ve achieved that.”

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