An estimated 10,000 people took part in Lá Mór na Gaeilge in Dublin city centre on Saturday February 15.
Buses from the four provinces of Ireland made their way to Parnell Square, from where the assembled crowd marched through Dublin city centre to Dáil Éireann to demand their language rights and equality for the Irish language.
Coordinated by Conradh na Gaeilge, Lá Mór na Gaeilge was a celebration of Irish for all the family and a massive march for language rights, attracting both members of the Irish-speaking community as well as those with a love for Irish, and drawing crowds of thousands into the streets to show their support for the language.
The march concluded with entertainment by Seo Linn, Kíla and Na Fíréin.
Following the event Julian de Spáinn, General Secretary of Conradh na Gaeilge said: ‘Gaeltacht and Irish-language communities north and south are not happy with either Government, as their basic human right to use their language is neither being supported nor sufficiently legally protected.
‘The aim of Lá Mór na Gaeilge was to drive the Governments to recognise and appreciate the importance and the value of the Irish language for this country, as well as acknowledging the fact that the majority of people on this island have a love for the language.
‘But [this] march is just the beginning – we will continue to campaign with our public representatives until we achieve fairness and equality for the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht communities throughout the island of Ireland.’
Conradh na Gaeilge organised Lá Mór na Gaeilge following the Language Commissioner Seán Ó Cuirreáin’s announcement that he would be stepping down on February 23 as a result of the lack of support for the language rights of the Irish-speaking and Gaeltacht community from the Irish Government.
When speaking before the Oireachtas Committees on the 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language, Mr Ó Cuirreáin said: ‘Despite the enormous goodwill of the vast majority of the people of this country, the language continues to drift further to the margins of society, including within much of the public sector.
‘The choice I had was to stand aside from my appointment as Coimisinéir Teanga on principle to draw attention to these matters, or to continue in my role and, consequently, to participate in a pretense.’
To coincide with Mr Ó Cuirreáin’s final day in office an event, Slán le Seán, was organised on Sunday February 23, where the people of Connemara came out in force to protest at the events which brought about his resignation.
The event began outside the offices of the Coimisinéir Teanga in An Spidéal, with the presentation of a letter to Mr Ó Cuirreáin expressing gratitude for his work over the past 10 years.
The group of 1,000 then marched to the headquarters of the Department of the Gaeltacht in Na Forbacha, where a letter was delivered by Gaeltacht children, addressed to the Minister of State responsible for Gaeltacht Affairs, Dinny Mc Ginley, expressing frustration at the failure of the present government to ensure that adequate measures are taken so that State agencies would be in a position to comply with legislative requirements, in terms of providing services to Irish speakers, particularly in Gaeltacht areas.
Conradh na Gaeilge sets out demands
Based on the recommendations of An Coimisinéir Teanga and those voiced at public meetings across the country, the following are the demands Conradh na Gaeilge and the attendees of Lá Mór na Gaeilge are calling for to ensure language rights and equality for Irish:
A deadline must be set by which employees of the State dealing with the Gaeltacht community must have fluent Irish, without condition or question by the end of 2016 – native Irish speakers should not be forced to conduct their business in English with state agencies.
- The recruitment quota for people with competency in both Irish and English in the public service must be increased from 6% to 30% within the next 10 years – under the new system envisaged by the Government, it would take over 28 years to increase the percentage of staff with competence in Irish in the Department of Education and Skills from the current 1.5% to 3%.
- Eight years on from the British Government’s promise to legislate for the Irish language as part of the St Andrew’s Agreement, a clear and agreed timetable for the enactment of a rights-based Irish Language Act needs to be published.
- The Official Languages Act 2003 must be strengthened, not weakened, in 2014; this includes the retention and strengthening of an independent Office of An Coimisinéir Teanga.
- The derogation of the status of Irish as an official language of the European Union should be done away with after 1 January 2017.
- The Irish-language and Gaeltacht community must be recognised as stakeholders in the implementation of The 20 Year Strategy for the Irish Language 2010 – 2030 in Ireland and in the Irish-Language Strategy in Northern Ireland. It is imperative that the crucial high-level structures between authorities and Irish-language community organisations is established immediately.