"Either you use another language or unfortunately I am not able to leave you the floor." These words were said last Monday by Roberto Galtieri, chairman of a European Parliament committee meeting, to Irish MEP Liadh Ní Riada shortly after she began to speak. Ní Riada chose to speak Irish, but a simultaneous translation from/into that language was not planned. "I informed that I would be using Irish, and the answer I got was: 'Well, why would you do that when you have English?'," Ní Riada says. The Irish MEP decided not to continue speaking if she could not do so through the medium of Irish.
Ní Riada's speech was her first one during the linguistic strike she will be holding until March 17th: Ní Riada will not speak any language other than Irish in any official EU session in order to "draw attention to the fact that I cannot use my native language in Parliament."
Ní Riada believes she should be able to only speak Irish in the EU Parliament, given that the language was granted EU official status in 2007. But since 2007 too, an EU-Irish Government agreed derogation has been in force: according to the deal, European institutions do not need to guarantee the right to use Irish at the same level it is done with the remaining 23 EU official languages. Ní Riada says her goal is to "to ensure this derogation is ended and that Irish speakers have the same rights as eveybody else in the Parliament."
Ní Riada's Sinn Féin and pro-Irish language groups are asking the government of the Republic of Ireland to demand the end of the derogation to the EU, which will be valid until the end of 2016. Only then, they argue, Irish will have the same rights as the other official languages. Pro-Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge recalls that "it is up to the Irish Government" to "submit a request to the European Union not to renew the derogation." This should be done "soon", otherwise there will be bo time left to recruit the necessary staff. Furthermore, Conradh na Gaeilge says the end of the derogation would create more than 180 jobs related to the full implementation of Irish status as an EU official language.
(Image: Ní Riada as she spoke Irish last Monday in the parliamentary session. / Picture from You Tube screenshot.)
- Al Jazeera: Striking for Irish and linguistic diversity