Irish achieved full parity with the European Union’s 23 official languages from midnight last night following the end of a derogation that has been in place since 2007. From Saturday, all legislation enacted onwards will be translated into Irish.
“This full status is an important recognition at international level of our specific identity as a people with a distinctive language of our own that we use alongside all the other languages we use and respect,” he said in a statement.
“It places our language on an equal footing with those of the founding members of the Union, and those of the Member States who have joined over the years since.
Mr Higgins described the enhanced status as “a significant achievement” and said it would be gratifying for many to know that Irish will be in every day use in the European Union.
“While the language will now be in every day use in the EU, we must now seize the opportunity to also take responsibility for ensuring that it means something in our own lives. I gcroílár gnóthaí laethúla na hEorpa; i gcroílár an tsaoil sa Bhaile (at the heart of daily business in Europe; at the heart of life at home).
“Yes, we must learn the languages of our friends in Europe and use as much of their languages as we can, but there is immense significance to having our own language in use. We have made English our own, and we rightly take pride in our four Noble laureates in literature in that language, but now we have a further linguistic tool for our reflections and exchanges.
Citing the “varied experiences” which people may have had in the education system in the past, Mr Higgins said he does not take lightly the reasons why people do not always feel a strong connection to Irish.
However, he suggested it was now time to to “throw off all the inhibitions” and to make a resolution to engage with the language.
“When Teilifís na Gaeilge was coming on the air, I said ‘give the Irish language another chance’. Now I say throw off all the inhibitions, the excuses, the laziness and as the language of our ancestors becomes at even level in daily usage in the European Union, let us go and make a resolution to give it a place in our daily lives at home – i lár an aonaigh, inár ngnáthcaint (at the centre of things, in our everyday speech),” he added.
“We have, in this coming year not only a responsibility, but a joyful opportunity to ensure that our native language is available and valued by our future generations. The Irish language is that of us.