19 December 2002 Edition

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Census set to show big growth in Irish language

Sinn Féin's Irish language Spokesperson, Barry McElduff, has said that he expects the Six-County census due to be published later this week to show a big rise in the use of the Irish language.

"I expect the census figure that are due to be announced this week to show a big growth in the use of Irish," McElduff said. "This is to be expected given the growth in both demand and places for Irish medium education. Former education Minster Martin McGuinness has been central to assisting that growth and Irish-medium education is set continue growing at over 5% a year."

The non-denominational ethos, excellent results and parent-orientated approach of Irish-medium education will continue to find increasing favour among both parents and young people, the West Tyrone MLA predicted.

"The Irish language has also been fundamental in the development of a strong identity for many nationalists throughout Ireland but particularly in the north where people's Irish identity has been ruthlessly suppressed and denied by generations of Unionist and British politicians.

"I would also argue that a strong sense of identity can play a vital role in tackling the lack of tolerance that has built up between our communities. Strength and confidence in your own sense of identity is crucial in eliminating fear and promoting diversity and tolerance. In many ways this runs contrary to the predominant Community Relations strategy approaches that have failed in the past."

McElduff also claimed, however, that the British and Dublin governments have failed to respond to the rapid growth of the Irish language with imagination or, indeed, the appropraite funding.

"We now need to see a positive response from British Ministers who have failed to live up to their commitments on minority languages and issues such as support for Irish language programming. I would also like to see an All-Ireland language Bill brought forward by both the Dublin and London governments, possibly similar to the Welsh model, that could capitalise on the huge energy and enthusiasm that has been unleashed by the growth of Irish language in the north.

"Recent cutbacks in funding for Foras na Gaeilge do not bode well in this regard."

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