No longer a punchbag!
As the focus remains on efforts to have the British Government and the DUP deliver on longstanding promises to respect the rights of Irish speakers by introducing an Irish Language Act, the need for protection for Irish speakers was highlighed again by the axing this week of funding for Irish medium youth clubs across Belfast.
Sadly, the DUP and the British Government continue to deny support to an Irish Language Act 19 years after the Good Friday Agreement promised “resolute action” to promote An Ghaeilge and 11 years after the St Andrews Agreement pledge to introduce such an Act.
And how peculiar that those who most trumpet the benefits of what they view as their beloved United Kingdom should be so reluctant to emulate the language acts of Wales and Scotland which protect and promote the rights of those who speak the other indigenous languages of these islands.
Of course, the majority of parties in the North who support marriage equality also marvel at the fact that everywhere else in these islands marriage equality is now a given.
None of these ironies were lost on the young people and their parents who gathered this week in Coláiste Feirste and outside the headquarters of the Education Authority to protest loudly the axing of funding to Irish medium youth clubs in Belfast. For too long, the Irish language has been treated like a punchbag in these parts. Those days are over. An Irish Language Act will further confirm that fact and ensure all our people are treated with the respect and equality they deserve.
I found myself back at the Education Authority this week to meet officials over the cutting of funding to vital programmes directed at vulnerable children in the Rosario Youth Club in the heart of my South Belfast constituency. I was heartened by the large turnout of youth club members, parents and supporters who turned out on Friday evening in glorious sunshine to demand this funding is reinstated. At our meeting with Education Authority officials, certain pledges were given to youth club representatives over how the valuable work of Rosario would continue without disruption in the future. Our job now is to police those commitments to ensure that, over coming weeks, the club can return to its mission of building up our young people.