C: An Dream Dearg (Twitter)

PICTURES: An Dream Dearg: Huge crowds gather to demand Irish language act

Thousands of Irish language activists brought Belfast city centre to a standstill on Saturday in a protest that culminated in a gathering at City Hall.

The rally, organised by campaign group, An Dream Dearg, had been months in the planning, and has been dubbed by organisers and attendees as the biggest language rally seen “in a generation”.

The march began at Cultúrlann McAdam Ó Fiaich in west Belfast at 1pm, with participants travelling from across Ireland to demand action from the UK government and the NI Executive. There has been a lack of progress with regards to language legislation in the north, despite promises set out in the New Decade, New Approach deal two years ago.

An Irish language strategy was pledged as part of the agreement that restored power-sharing in 2020 after Stormont’s three-year collapse, but the implementation of the package has stalled amid lingering political contention over the matter.

A further guarantee of language legislation was set out in the Queen’s speech earlier this month, amid expectation that Westminster would introduce the new laws prior to the May 5th Stormont election.

Last June, the British Government promised to pass the legislation at Westminster to bring an end to an impasse between Sinn Fein and the DUP over its introduction in the Stormont Assembly.

However, the Government failed to introduce a Bill before its self-imposed October deadline last year. On a visit to Northern Ireland last Monday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson further pledged to deliver on the cultural package, which also includes a commitment to an Ulster Scots language, heritage and culture plan, in the coming weeks. 

The last public protest held by An Dream Dearg took place in May 2017, which saw thousands march on Belfast City Hall demanding an Irish Language Act, which had been committed to by both the Irish and British Governments at St. Andrews back in 2006.

An Dream Dearg spokesman Conchur O Muadaigh said the organisation was “blown away” by the scale of the demonstration, with a reported 17,000 people in attendance, and described Saturday’s rally as “the biggest Irish language demonstration of a generation”.

“An Dream Dearg has built a grassroots movement that has pushed the Irish language from the margins to the very centre of political and civic discourse both here and internationally, a movement that has spoken truth to power and ensured our community would no longer be treated as second class citizens, marginalised or excluded. Those days are gone for good,” O Muadaigh said.

“The Irish Language Act is long, long overdue,” he added. “Our community cannot and must not be made to wait any longer for the same language rights enjoyed by citizens across these islands.”

Impassioned protesters called for an Irish Language Act and chants included recitals of Irish language phrases such as “tir gan teanga, tir gan anam”, which translates as “a country without a language is a country without a soul”.

New pro-life republican party Aontú were represented at the rally. 

“The Irish language belongs to us all. It is not a threat to anyone, but a precious treasure,” the all-Ireland party said on Twitter. 

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