The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) today voted to campaign for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland, lending their support to an issue that has gained momentum amid a particularly divisive period for the state.
The motion, which received unanimous support today, March 28th, at the union’s annual congress in Clare, mandates the union to campaign for the language act alongside Irish language campaign groups Conradh na Gaelige and Dream Dearg.
Speaking in support of the motion today, Maria Schaler, USI’s Vice-President for the Irish Language, said “it’s what the majority of the population want”. Groups, she said, are currently fighting and campaigning on the issue. The St Andrews Agreement, which was signed in 2006, was a significant milestone in Northern Ireland’s return to devolution and power-sharing, containing commitments to promote and protect the Irish language. Referencing the agreement, Schaler said the union needed to help support the efforts to achieve an act for Northern Ireland’s Irish speakers: “We need to keep pushing it.”
The motion saw numerous passionate, and sometimes tearful, speeches from delegates, in both Irish and English, and received unanimous support from voters. Many speakers, including Schaler, said that campaigns for Irish were not political or sectarian. Aoibhinn Loughlin, Trinity College Dublin Students’ Union (TCDSU) Welfare Officer, who is from Northern Ireland, called it an “equality issue”, while President of Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology (GMIT), Amy Kelly, said that the treatment of the language is an “utmost disgrace” and that Irish is “doing nothing but being strengthened”.
The motion was proposed by NUI Galway Students’ Union (NUIGSU). The university has recently been the centre of a discussion about the purpose and prominence of the Irish language in Ireland, after it decided to drop the requirement that the university’s president be a fluent Irish speakers.
A protest took place yesterday outside Stormont to call for the introduction of an Irish Language Act. The demand for an Irish Language Act has proved contentious in Northern Ireland, and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)’s opposition was a significant, and divisive, feature of the state’s recent indeterminate election.