NI Executive failed in its duty to adopt a strategy to develop the Irish language

The High Court has ruled that the Executive Committee has failed, in breach of its statutory duty under Section 28D(1) of the Northern Ireland Act 1998, to adopt a strategy setting out how it proposes to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.

The PILS Project supported its members Conradh na Gaelige and Michael Flanigan Solicitors in judicially reviewing the failure of the Executive to adopt an Irish language strategy.  The applicant, Conradh na Gaelige, is a group that works to promote and develop the Irish language. 

The challenge concerned the commitment entered into by the UK government in 2006, as part of the St. Andrews Agreement, in which the government endorsed ‘the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland.’  The Northern Ireland (St. Andrews Agreement) Act 2006 added a new Section 28D to the Northern Ireland Act 1998.  This provision placed a legal obligation on the Executive Committee to adopt a strategy for the enhancement and protection of the development of the Irish language.

The Court took the view that the Executive Committee had failed to adopt a strategy for the development of the Irish language for the following reasons:

(i)                Nearly 10 years had elapsed since the obligation contained in Section 28D had been imposed and therefore the duty had not been discharged within a reasonable timeframe;

(ii)              The obligation ‘is an obligation of outcome not means.’  The required outcome was the adoption of a strategy and efforts made to progress the matter did not excuse the failure to deliver;

(iii)             The Executive Committee had a duty to take whatever steps were necessary to comply with the obligation imposed upon it by Parliament.  It could not evade this duty by alleging that any other party was responsible.

(iv)             Parliament, when it imposed the duty would have been aware of the political difficulties in devising a strategy for Northern Ireland.

(v)              The purpose of Section 28D had been frustrated and the practical effect of the provision had been obliterated.

Julian de Spáinn, General-Secretary of Conradh na Gaelige stated that ‘These promises were the cornerstone of the peace process regarding the language and as we enter a very uncertain period for the Executive, there is added pressure on the state to ensure rights and protection of the Irish-language community.  Conradh na Gaelige maintains that the only way to guarantee these developments is through protective legislation for the language in the form of an Act.’