EU breakthrough for Irish language

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Gaelic activists are celebrating a landmark decision to make Ireland's first language an official language of the European Union.

Foreign ministers from the 25 EU member states agreed to include the language in the official list of 21 working languages at a meeting in Luxembourg yesterday.

In the future, EU laws will be issued in Irish; Irish may be spoken in the European Parliament; and whenever job opportunities with EU institutions arise, these are open to EU citizens who can speak two or more EU languages, now including Irish.

Sinn Fein MEP Bairbre de Brun, a member of the United Left Group (GUE-NGL), welcomed official EU recognition for the Irish language as a "victory for campaigners from all over Ireland and further afield who continue to campaign for equality for the language".

Demands were made last night for an Irish language act in the North of Ireland following yesterday's landmark decision, with campaigners pointing out that it was the only part of the British Isles where an indigenous minority language had no legal status.

The decision may also increase pressure to end the anomaly of Catalan, the mother tongue of ten million people – far more than is the case for many official EU languages – which remains excluded. The difference is that, while the Irish government has always been positive about its national indigenous langauge, the Spanish state has made no effort to persuade the EU to accept any language spoken within its borders other than Castilian Spanish.

Catalan is also spoken in France and Italy, and were it to be ranked alongside EU languages according to number of speakers, it would come in eight or ninth place.