Political coalition strengthens in support of Irish as an official EU language
Dépêche de EUROLANG

Publié le 14/01/04 17:09 -- mis à jour le 00/00/00 00:00

by Eoghan Ó Néill

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A sizeable political coalition has now formed behind the demand that Irish be made an official language in the EU. Last Thursday the case for Irish as an official language went to the National Forum on Europe in Dublin and received enthusiastic and almost unanimous support.

The pressure group STADAS are spearheading the campaign and a spokesperson for STADAS, Dr Pádraig Ó Laighean, made a forceful and comprehensive case for Irish being an official language.

In his address Dr Ó Laighin stressed that 'tokenism in any form' on this issue would not be acceptable and that the Irish language needed to enjoy a significant European status not just during the Irish Presidency but permanently.

Speakers from all of the main opposition political parties strongly supported Dr Ó Laighin and urged the Irish government to act immediately on the issue.

Among those who spoke in favour were Enda Kenny, leader of Fine Gael, Bairbre de Brún, Sinn Féin, Michael D Higgins, Labour Party, and Joe Higgins, Socialist Party.

Also behind the campaign in a personal capacity are Fianna Fáil MEP, Seán Ó Neachtain, Fianna Fáil member of the National Forum Noel Mulcahy and the independent Chair of the Forum, Maurice Hayes.

The main government party, Fianna Fáil, are reluctant to declare themselves at this stage, however, and Minister Eamann Ó Cuív wouldn't commit to the campaign.

He stressed that the issue of securing official status for Irish is 'complex' and that his Department is in contact with the Foreign Affairs Department to forward the status of Irish in the EU. He welcomed however the widespread debate on Irish which the campaign has generated.

And that debate has been significant.

Most of the main electronic and print media have carried sizeable reports on the issue in the past week and nearly 70,000 people have already signed an on - line petition supporting STADAS.

Even so one Irish MEP has broken ranks on the issue. Speaking to the Irish language newspaper Lá, Labour Party MEP Proinsias de Rossa said that the campaign was a 'smokescreen.' ‘The job of promoting the language should be done at home instead of pretending that the Europe can do it for us. It will not make any real difference to Irish if every MEP from Ireland is allowed to speak the language in the European Parliament. The job must be done in Ireland.’

MEP de Rossa did say, however, that he was speaking personally and accepted that he didn't speak for the party on this question. If the issue comes to the European Parliament he says he will not oppose any proposal which would allow for Irish to be an official language. His was a lone voice however.

The degree of support which the STADAS campaign has attracted is impressive and Aoife Ní Scollaí of Conradh na Gaeilge believes the government is listening.

Speaking to Eurolang she said that: ‘They realise from the level of support expressed, the amount of interest in the media and the general mood of people that they must move on this issue. This is not a one day issue and I believe the Government understands this. If the pressure is kept on they will respond and I believe we will win on this question.’

When Ireland first joined the Common Market in 1973 the Irish government had an opportunity to secure official status for the Irish language but waived that right. However, with the accession of new member states and the significant increase of official languages in the EU the Irish government now has a new opportunity to secure official status for the Irish language. And the campaign now gathering momentum suggests that it will be difficult for the government to pass up this opportunity a second time.

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