Over 12,000 people marched to Belfast City Hall on Saturday to demand an Irish Language Act.
An Lá Dearg (The Red Day) – which was organised by An Dream Dearg – set off from Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich on the Falls Road to give voice to the widespread community demand for an Irish Language Act in the north, over 10 years since the legislation was promised as part of the St Andrews Agreement.
Caitlín Ní Chathail, a parent raising her child through Irish, addressing the rally, said: “As a parent who is raising my family as Irish speakers, all I ask is that the state recognises Irish as our language of choice – to live my life through the medium of Irish. I’m not asking for a special privilege or concession from those in power, just simply that they recognise my language rights and the language rights of my children. Gaeilge is the language we speak together at home, from morning to night, but we can avail of very few public services from the state through Irish. The fact my children see very little visible official Irish in public places also reinforces the isolation and marginalisation of our community of speakers. This is further exacerbated when we are ignored or attacked by government ministers and elected representatives.
“It angers me that my children and other children are at a disadvantage because of their language of choice. Our society is changing and more and more people are choosing to raise their children through Irish. The Irish medium education sector is flourishing. Despite the significant cultural and social changes that have taken place in recent decades, the system and the state in the north remains unchanged. The time for change is long overdue and we can no longer be made to feel invisible or treated as second class citizens in our own country.”
An Dream Dearg’s Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin told the crowd: “There is comprehensive and widespread support for a rights-based Irish Language Act and for the An Dream Dearg campaign and thousands have come out today to express their support in a clear, positive and unequivocal manner. All those who believe in diversity, language rights and human rights have come together as we demand that this state acts now and implements an Irish Language Act that was promised over ten years ago in the St Andrews Agreement.
“There is no doubt that the Irish language is now at the very centre of the current political crisis in the north and An Dream Dearg are stating clearly that no political institutions or future political arrangement are tenable in the absence of a rights-based Irish Language Act. Extensive public support for an Irish Language Act has been endorsed by the overwhelming majority across the community in successive public consultations, a clear majority of newly elected MLAs in the Assembly support our demand, as does the United Nations and the Council of Europe. Thousands of people are delivering that one clear message today, the time to Act is now – Acht Anois.”