|Sinn Féin MEP Liadh Ní Riada|
Sinn Féin’s Irish Language Officer and daughter of influential Irish composer and musician Sean Ó Riada – Ní Riada was elected to the European Parliament in May last year, and has already been shortlisted for an MEP of the year award.
Ní Riada has timed her strike to coincide with Seachtain na Gaeilge (“Irish Language Week”) which runs from March 1 to 17.
While Irish is the first official language of the Republic of Ireland, it was only accepted as an official working language of the EU in 2007, and was then immediately granted a renewable five-year “derogation”. This legal loophole means that European institutions are exempted from providing full translation or interpretation services in Irish, as they are obliged to do with all other official EU languages.
The derogation has been renewed for a further five years, and – unless lifted – will remain in place until 2017.
Announcing her strike at the International Conference on Language Rights in Dublin on February 17, Ní Riada declared: “For the duration of Seachtain na Gaeilge I will be on a language strike. 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,” Ní Riada said.
”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.”
She added that if the Irish Government made a formal request for the derogation to be lifted, “188 jobs will be created at no great cost to the European Union, but with huge ramifications for the Irish language and Gaeltacht communities. To create these jobs the Irish Government needs only send a formal request to the Council of Ministers to end the derogation.”
Ní Riada commenced her stailc during a discussion of the Junker Investment Plan in the first joint meeting of Budgets and Economic and Monetary Affairs committees on March 2, making her contribution solely in Irish, but she was interrupted almost immediately.
After the meeting, Ní Riada criticised her treatment by the committee.
"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.”
In addition to speaking only Irish, Ní Riada has initiated an online petition calling on the Irish Government to formally request the derogation be lifted.