The agreement does not deliver on a standalone Irish language act, which had long been a key demand of Sinn Féin and Irish-language campaigners. Instead, the legislation is introduced as one of three bills amending the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
Of course, whether or not the legislation would be ‘standalone’ was always immaterial compared to the more important part of the deal – its content.
The measures are described by the British government as a new “cultural framework” which will “promote cultural diversity and inclusion across all identities and cultures”.
The main provisions are the creation of an Irish language commissioner, an Ulster Scots/’Ulster British’ commissioner and a new Office of Identity and Cultural Expression.
It also gives official recognition of both Irish and Ulster-Scots languages in Northern Ireland.
MLAs will be able to speak in the assembly in Irish or Ulster Scots with a “simultaneous translation system” for non-speakers.
People will also be able to register births, deaths, marriages and wills in Irish, and “when deemed necessary” speak Irish in court.
The Irish language commissioner will work to “recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language”.
Its main function will be to “protect and enhance the development of the use of the Irish language by public authorities” by providing guidance and introducing best practice standards.
The guidance will include looking at Irish-language translations for websites of public bodies and for them to respond in Irish “where practical” to correspondence from Irish-speakers.
However, these standards must be agreed by the First and Deputy First Ministers – effectively meaning a veto for the DUP.
The reaction so far has been mixed, from both campaigners and those opposed to changes.
Conradh na Gaeilge activists hailed official status for the language as “historic” but said the proposals “fall far short of the commitments made in the 2006 St Andrew’s Agreement”. Irish-language activist Janet Muller, former director of Pobal, said the proposals are “weak and will not adequately protect and promote the Irish language”.
On the other hand, the Orange Order feels the Irish-language provisions go too far. It said it has “very serious concerns” and cannot support the deal.
In 2018’s abandoned deal, unionists sought to counterbalance acceding to Irish-language provisions by creating an Ulster Scots commissioner.
The new agreement expands on this to include the “Ulster British tradition”, saying the new commissioner will work to “enhance and develop the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition”.
Legislation will also be introduced to place a duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use of Ulster Scots in the education system.
However, the Orange Order remains unimpressed. It said the “references to Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British culture are ambiguous – lacking meaningful detail or delivery mechanisms”.
The Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, a new statutory body, will aim to “celebrate and support all aspects of Northern Ireland’s rich cultural and linguistic heritage”.
Although ambitious and positive in its aims, many will remain sceptical at Stormont farming out its unresolved issues to another quango.
The Office will “work closely” with the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition (FICT) – a panel set up under the Fresh Start Agreement more than three-and-a-half years ago which has yet to issue any recommendations.
On the British government’s part, it has made fresh commitments relating to immigration status for Northern Ireland citizens.
Taking into account the Good Friday Agreement, government policy “should not create incentives for renunciation of British citizenship” and it will change the rules on how people in Northern Ireland bring their family members to the UK.
Emma de Souza – who has been involved in a high-profile legal campaign after the Home Office rejected her application for a residence card for her US-born husband Jake when she identified herself as Irish – welcomed the “pretty monumental change”.
The campaigner from Magherafelt, Co Derry, said on Twitter the changes address “one of the most fundamentally flawed issues within the UK’s immigration policy”.
With many thanks to: The Irish News and Brendan Hughes for the original story