A few days I wrote ago about the judgement by a British court in the North of Ireland ruling that the northern department of education must provide a bus service for students based in rural areas attending the Irish-medium school Coláiste Feirste. This hopefully brought to an end a long-running dispute and furthered the rights of the Irish speaking communities in the north-eastern part of the country.
Now comes some additional news (via Hearts of Oak and Steel) on the involvement of Green Party councillor Cadogan Enright in the equality campaign, which also touches upon the greater question of the as yet unfulfilled implementation of full civil rights for the Irish population in the North of Ireland. From the Down News, a report:
“DOWNPATRICK Councillor Cadogan Enright celebrated a successful end to a five year campaign last week to win local Irish speaking children equal access to education in line with all other educational sectors. Now Irish speaking students has equal access to transport to and from their schools.
Cllr Enright said, “As a campaigner for the full implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, I was particularly pleased that Judge Treacy ruled that the Agreement was not merely aspirational but was intended to have ‘practical consequences and legislative significance’. This case will be a landmark case not just for Irish language rights, but for the Peace Agreement as a whole”.
“The Department was stuck in a pre-1998 time-warp on this issue and the Judge complemented us for attempting to resolve the matter over a ‘lengthy period in a thorough, considered and diplomatic manner in order to arrive at workable solution’ ” said Cllr Enright.
“The Department had maintained that the provision of transport had no effect on the success of any school. We pointed out that there were over 2020 dedicated buses taking children to school in other sectors over and above normal bus timetables, and none at all in the Irish medium sector…”
Cadogan Enright added, “In my view, discrimination against Irish speakers goes to the heart of the Peace Process. A case like this could never occur in Wales for instance, as there is widespread acceptance of the acceptability of Welsh in Wales by all political parties. Many otherwise moderate, reasonable people seem to lose control of their faculties when faced with the Irish language in Northern Ireland, and this pervades officialdom. For instance, the Tourist Board refuse to fund signs in Down District if any Irish language is used.
“Political opposition to the Good Friday Agreementr provisions on Irish is not limited to the likes of Jim Wells of the DUP. The Alliance Party and even my own party leader Steve Agnew MLA in the Green Party campaign against the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement on Irish language rights and other aspects of the Peace Agreement. This creates unnecessary on-going tension in the Green Party.
“It is a tribal thing. But I am old enough to remember when it was legal to discriminate against people because of their skin colour or sex, and it is only a few short years since Gay Rights were implemented in Northern Ireland… I am confident that international Human Rights law will triumph in the end,” said Cllr Cadogan Enright.”
The Green Party in the North is the regional branch of the Irish Green Party or Comhaontas Glas. Despite its all-Ireland affiliations there is a small but significant “British Unionist” or “Northern Ireland” element to the party grassroots that is at best lukewarm on many of the party’s all-island policies (most notable in the recent unsuccessful attempt by some to sever the party’s links to its southern compatriots). In the past this has led a few activists and supporters to join the Alliance Party, the “liberal” British Unionist party in the north-east of the country, which has consequently stolen some of the Green Party’s clothing.
Meanwhile Cadogan Enright’s membership of the northern Green Party is currently in dispute; perhaps not surprisingly given his honesty in relation to his party’s policies and the anti-Irish discrimination that remains institutionalized in the fabric of “Northern Ireland”.
Ironically local Sinn Féin MLA Caitríona Ruane, who once held the education portfolio in the northern regional executive and defended her department’s then opposition to the travel service, now welcomes the decision:
“Caitríona Ruane said, “I welcome any measure to make it easier for children to attend schools in the Irish medium sector and I have no doubt that the Education Minister [Sinn Féin minister John O’Dowd!] will study the implications of the ruling.
“The Department of Education has a statutory duty to encourage and facilitate Irish medium education. The court decision is important in that it clarifies that this duty is more than aspirational.
“This finally casts aside the legal view proffered within the Department, and which I challenged repeatedly at the time, that their responsibility with respect to Irish language schools did not include the provision of designated transport facilities.”
Hmmm. Anyone for a pinch of salt?
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