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Stormont should bring in Irish Language Act, says Bishop of Raphoe

By Cian Molloy - 14 August, 2017

Northern Ireland’s politicians should agree to bring in an Irish Language Act, says the new Bishop of Raphoe Alan McGuckian, who believes the move would preserve the power-sharing principles of the Good Friday Agreement.

Stormont Assembly

For most of this year, the political process in Northern Ireland has been deadlocked since Sinn Féin withdrew from the power-sharing executive in January due to unhappiness with the DUP leadership on a number of issues, chiefly a mismanaged green energy scheme, but also issues of parity of esteem, particularly in relation to the Irish language.

Since elections were held in March, the two main political parties, the DUP and Sinn Féin, have been unable to put together a programme for government or to agree a budget, with one of the main stumbling blocks being the DUP’s refusal to countenance an Irish Language Act that would, among other things, allow for bilingual signage on roads and in public buildings.

In an interview with the Belfast Telegraph newspaper, Bishop McGuckian said: “Given the support there is for the local national languages of Wales and Scotland, it is obvious that there should be the same support for the traditional Irish language here.

“There is a great richness in the Irish language and I would like to see the Stormont politicians working together to make the Irish Language Act a reality.

“I know Protestants who became interested in the Irish origin of the place names where they live and they began to explore the Irish language in more depth.

“I would like to see DUP supporters and other people beginning to find some affinity with the Irish language and not see it as a threat.”

Known as Alan Mac Eochagáin when he visits the Donegal Gaeltacht, the new Bishop of Raphoe has a long-standing personal interest in the Irish language. Among his many qualifications, he has an Irish language degree and an MA in Irish language translation, which he put to practical use when he produced an Irish language translation of the Life of St Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, to which Bishop McGuckian belongs – indeed he is Ireland’s first Jesuit bishop.

Born in Cloughmills, Co. Antrim, Bishop McGuckian told the Belfast Telegraph that power sharing was in the interests of all of Northern Ireland’s communities. “The Good Friday Agreement was a wonderful achievement because it gave the right to people on both sides to be there and to be what they are. We need political leaders who are prepared to work out the principles of the Good Friday Agreement. It was a great gift to us and it is important that we do not let it slip.”

In the interview, the Bishop was asked about the participation of An Taoiseach Leo Varadkar in the Gay Pride Festival in Belfast this month. He said: “One of the Christian teachings is to respect people in the way that you would want them to respect you.

“So, obviously, I respect the right of everyone, including the Taoiseach, to hold his or her point of view on same-sex marriage and all those related issues. The politicians have a role to play on these matters, but as a teaching bishop I hold firmly to the biblical view that marriage is only between one man and one woman.”

It looks like Ireland’s newest bishop is destined to be in the media spotlight, but in the meantime he is on retreat – it is his custom to walk part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain at this time of year.

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