Belfast City Hall turns red in campaign by Irish language speakers

Belfast City Hall has been illuminated in red in a show of support for those campaigning for greater protections for Irish language speakers in Northern Ireland.

Around 200 activists gathered for a colourful and noisy demonstration as the landmark building turned the colour of their movement late on Saturday afternoon.

The decision of councillors to use the lights to back a cause at the heart of Stormont’s powersharing impasse has proved controversial.

While unionists have claimed the vote – which was backed by Sinn Fein, the SDLP and the Alliance Party – has politicised the building, advocates for an Irish Language Act insist they have every right to have their cause highlighted.

The Irish language has emerged as the key obstacle preventing the restoration of powersharing in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Fein has insisted it will only return to devolved government if the DUP accedes to a stand-alone piece of legislation that grants protections for Gaelic speakers.

The DUP has said it will approve protections, but only as part of a wider Culture Act, which also incorporates the Ulster Scots tradition.

Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein, from Irish language campaign group An Dream Dearg, said the protests would continue until an Irish Language Act became a reality.

“This is incredibly important for us, this is a physical beacon for equality in this city,” he said of the red illumination. “It represents the diversity of this city, that we have different communities here and all those different communities need to be respected and tolerated.”

The illumination marked the second anniversary of a protest by Irish language activists at the decision of a DUP minister to cut bursaries for young people undertaking Irish language studies. They point to that contentious episode as the spark that invigorated their campaign for an Irish Language Act.

Campaigners insist an Act was promised in the 2006 St Andrews Agreement that paved the way for the DUP and Sinn Fein to enter a historic powersharing arrangement at Stormont. The DUP contend that it did not sign up to an Irish Language Act in 2006, and the commitment was instead the product of a non-binding side deal between republicans and the UK Government.

Mr Mac Giolla Bhein added: “The parties are going to reconvene for talks at some stage and when they do the first item on the ‘to do list’ is most certainly the issue of Irish language rights.

“This community isn’t going anywhere, we are not leaving the streets, this issue isn’t going away.

“The sooner parties sit down and grapple with this, the sooner the DUP lift their objection to this and agree to fulfil a promise that was made in 2006 the better.”

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