In brief

Irish receives official language status in Northern Ireland

New legislation aims to “enhance and protect” use of language by public administration

The demonstration in Belfast.
The demonstration in Belfast. Author: An Dream Dearg
Irish has been granted official language status in Northern Ireland after the Identity and Language Act received Royal Assent on 6 December. The Act had been passed by the UK Parliament in October.

The new legislation creates the post of Irish language commissioner. The main objective of this new post will be to “enhance and protect the use of the Irish language by public authorities in the provision of services to the public,” for which it will have to prepare “standards of best practice” for Northern Irish administrations. The commissioner is to be appointed jointly by the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

The law also repeals a 1737 regulation that prohibited the use of Irish in the courts.

It also creates a commissioner for Ulster Scots —another minority language in Northern Ireland—but does not give official status to that language.

The final approval of the law comes seven months after a large demonstration filled the streets of Belfast in defence of the linguistic rights of Irish speakers.

Paula Melvin, president of Conradh na Gaeilge, one of the leading Irish language organisations, said the law’s approval was a “historic” milestone in the campaign “for equality.” Melvin warned that nothing can be taken for granted, and that it is now necessary for the UK authorities to implement the law to its full extent.

Official language in the Republic of Ireland and the EU

South of the border, Irish has been the first official language since 1937. However, English —the second official language— is more widely used.

Irish has also been a fully official language of the European Union since January 2022, when the last limitations on its official use in the EU institutions, which had been in place since 2007, were lifted.