The Irish-speaking community in the north has demanded an Irish Act for many years. The Good Friday Agreement 1998 requires signatures ‘to take resolute action to promote the language’ and it mentions a series of steps which would ensure that the Irish language received proper recognition. These steps were designed to ensure respect and tolerance for the language, and to recognise its importance. Although some of these steps were addressed, there is still a long way to go before the requirements of the Agreement are fully met.
Due to the Good Friday Agreement 1998 and St. Andrew's Agreement 2006, the case for legislation for protection of the language has often been up for discussion. Language legislation is required by the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages, implemented in Britain in 2001. It is also needed to comply with the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious or Linguistic Minorities.
If an Irish Language Act was introduced, the language would have an official status in the north for the first time. This recognition is needed in order for the language to receive proper support and investment. It is very important that speakers can avail of language rights and Irish language services if they wish to.
Many countries around the world use legislation to protect the rights of minority language speakers, and this is widely recognised as the most effective approach.
Two other consultations in 2006 and 2007 showed that the public supported the need for an Irish Language Act. Another consultation process was started at the beginning of 2015 regarding proposals for an Irish Language Bill. More than 10,000 submissions were sent to the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure and we are still waiting for a response from the Department at this time.