In May of 2014 the Sinn Féin member and Irish rights campaigner Liadh Ní Riada was elected to the European Parliament with the promise to seek full legal equality for Irish-speaking citizens of the EU. Since that time the daughter of the renowned composer and musician Seán Ó Riada has led her party’s fight to place our indigenous language on the same footing as the other national languages of the European Union. In this struggle she and her colleagues have been vociferously opposed by the elected representatives and officials of the establishment parties in Ireland, particularly the openly antipathetic MEPs of Fine Gael and Labour, who have sought to maintain the Irish language’s inferior position inside the institutions of the EU (the so-called “derogation” on Irish translations and translators which was renewed again until 2017 at the behest of the governing FG – Lab coalition in Dublin).
On March 2nd Liadh Ní Riada began a “language strike” in the European Parliament to protest the second-class status afforded to Irish-speakers, explaining well beforehand that:
“This means I will only speak Irish in my work with the European Institutions as a protest against the derogation. My aim is to draw attention to derogation and to encourage the Irish Language community and the Irish people in general to put pressure on the Government to remedy the situation.
It saddens me that as a public representative, an Irish person, and a woman from the Gaeltacht who grew up with Irish, that I cannot use my own language as I go about my work. It angers me when I sit in Parliament and I am told at the beginning of each meeting that an interpretation service is available in each language. Of course Irish is excluded and ignored.”
During a joint meeting of Budgets and Economic and Monetary Affairs committees on March 2 Ní Riada spoke in Irish, being interrupted almost immediately solely because she was speaking in her mother tongue and not “another language”. After the meeting the MEP criticised her treatment.
“It was inadmissible what happened in the committee today. I contacted the committee secretariat last week to inform them of the strike. I explained that I was doing it in protest against the language derogation that is currently in place and if they were not willing to provide interpreting that my political advisor would be able to do so on my behalf. I was not allowed to finish my point and this is totally unfair considering the fact that I was speaking in official working language of the EU.”
It is bizarre that the current Irish government – like its predecessors – wishes to keep its own national and first official language legally inferior to that of every other national language of the European Union. Even rejecting the opportunity to create up to 200 jobs for Irish-speaking EU citizens in the process. We truly are a colony.