Official Language and Symbol: Northern Ireland Good Friday Agreement

Strand Three

Rights, Safeguards and Equality of Opportunity:

Economic, Social and Cultural Issues:

4. In the context of active consideration currently being given to the UK signing the Council of Europe Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the British Government will in particular in relation to the Irish language, where appropriate and where people so desire it:

• take resolute action to promote the language;

• facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life where there is appropriate demand;

• seek to remove, where possible, restrictions which would discourage or work against the maintenance or development of the language;

• make provision for liaising with the Irish language community, representing their views to public authorities and investigating complaints;

• place a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education in line with current provision for integrated education;

• explore urgently with the relevant British authorities, and in co-operation with the Irish broadcasting authorities, the scope for achieving more widespread availability of Teilifis na Gaeilige in Northern Ireland;

• seek more effective ways to encourage and provide financial support for Irish language film and television production in Northern Ireland; and

• encourage the parties to secure agreement that this commitment will be sustained by a new Assembly in a way which takes account of the desires and sensitivities of the community.

5. All participants acknowledge the sensitivity of the use of symbols and emblems for public purposes, and the need in particular in creating the new institutions to ensure that such symbols and emblems are used in a manner which promotes mutual respect rather than division. Arrangements will be made to monitor this issue and consider what action might be required.

Implementation History

1998

Intermediate Implementation

Substantial changes took place in terms of strategies outlining to promote language in the Northern Ireland Act (1998). In terms of the use of Irish language in schools, several measures were adopted. On 21 July 1998, the UK government issued Education (Northern Ireland) Order 1998 [1998 No. 1759 (N.I. 13)], in which the government devolved power to the Department of Education to support and promote Irish language education and Irish Medium schools. In December, the Northern Ireland government also passed the Education Act. Irish language is voluntarily used in schools and media outlets use the Irish language. 

In terms of sensitivity of symbols as specified in the Good Friday Agreement, the flying of the Union flag on public buildings and the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC) stations had increasingly been opposed by both the unionist and the republican. In 1998, however, the Chief Constable Sir Ronnie Flanagan issued a recommendation for an immediate stop of flying the Union flag outside all RUC stations.

1999

Intermediate Implementation

A Center Community Relations Unit was established to come up with a language use policy that included Irish language, establishment of the North/South Language Implementation Body in December 1999. Also, the Minister for Education in December 1999 decided not to fly a Union flag over the buildings housing the department.

2000

Full Implementation

After the establishment of the North/South Language Implementation Body in December 1999, the government signed on the charter for Regional or Minority Languages in 2000.

Parties hotly debated issue of flying Union flags on public buildings at the Northern Ireland Assembly in June 2000. Sinn Fein had ordered departments under their control not to fly the Union Flag.1 On 8 November 2000, the government issued the Statutory Rules of Northern Ireland (No. 347) on flags,2 which came into effect on 11 November 2000. It specified certain days and occasions the Union flag could be flown. The legislation reduced the flag flying days from 21 to 17.3

2001

Full Implementation

Sinn Fein had challenged the Flag order which a High Court judge dismissed on 4 October 2001.4

2002

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2003

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2004

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2005

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2006

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.

2007

Full Implementation

No further developments observed.