[Sinn Fein]

20th March 2003

Census figures show popularity of Irish language among young people

Sinn Fein Irish language Spokesperson, West Tyrone MLA Barry McElduff has welcomed the publication of detailed information from the 2001 Census that highlights the popularity of the Irish language among young people.

Mr McElduff said:

``The detailed information from the 2001 Census show that nearly 1 on four of our young people have a knowledge of Irish.

``This is to be expected given the growth in both demand and places for Irish medium education. Former education Minster Martin McGuinness has been central to assisting that growth and Irish medium education is set continue growing at over 5% a year. Its non-denominational ethos, excellent results and parent orientated approach will continue to find increasing favour among both parents and young people.

``The Irish language has also been fundamental in the development of a strong identity for many nationalists throughout Ireland but particularly in the north where people's Irish identity has been ruthlessly suppressed and denied by generations of Unionist and British politicians.

``I would also argue that a strong sense of identity can play a vital role in tackling the lack of tolerance that has built up between our communities. Strength and confidence in your own sense of identity is crucial in eliminating fear and promoting diversity and tolerance. In many ways this runs contrary to the predominant Community Relations strategy approaches that have failed in the past.

``We now need to see a positive response from Britsih Ministers who have failed to live up to their commitments on minority languages and issues such as support for Irish language programming. I would also like to see an All Ireland language Bill brought forward by both the Dublin and London governments, possibly similar to the Welsh model that could capitalise on the huge energy and enthusiasm that has been unleashed by the growth of Irish language in the north.

``I would also like to see more Unionist politicians begin to recognise the role they have played in denying the Irish identity of nationalists living in the north.''

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