After the Good Friday Agreement (GFA) was signed in 1998 many people throughout Ireland believed it would herald positive changes in their lives. Those who either disagreed with, or actively opposed, it were labelled ‘anti-peace’, Neanderthals, etc.
Many Irish republicans argued that the GFA would put the cause for a Socialist Republic on the backburner. It was in the interest of the British and 26 County governments for it to be implemented and after a referendum was called the majority of people voted for it.
Since then there have been many changes in society, most of which are negative. Poverty is rife, sectarianism and racism are on the increase, and most importantly the constitutional question is still not settled.
Unionists, supported by successive British governments, continue to renege on issues like the Irish language despite Sinn Féin signing up to one of their main demands-policing.
In October 2006 both governments and the constitutional parties met at St. Andrews in Scotland to sort out the issue of policing. Sinn Féin, had for years, argued that the RUC was a paramilitary police force that upheld the Orange state and they called for their disbandment. They had, in fact, been very critical of the SDLP who had always supported policing in the 6 Counties.
It is the opinion of many people that for Sinn Féin to be part of a power-sharing ‘government’ in Stormont they had to endorse policing. Another part of the talks was the Irish language and it was agreed an Act would be brought in giving Irish as equal a status as English.
The Welsh and Scottish Assemblies got their own Acts which gave people in both of those countries the opportunity to use their language as and when they wanted.
The difference in the 6 Counties to those countries was that many unionists opposed all things Irish because they claimed it impacted on their ‘culture’. They kept up the demand for Sinn Féin to endorse policing. After months of ‘consultation’ with their members and others Sinn Féin did indeed agree to support the PSNI. They argued that it would put them in a stronger position to push for the likes of an Irish language act.
Irish language activists believed that it was only a matter of time before legislation was brought in, which would mean many benefits for schools, etc. However, unionists continued to oppose it in debates in Stormont. They claimed other languages such as Polish and Mandarin were spoken by more people but this is not the case. Research has been carried out by academics and others who claim that Irish speakers are numerous and the language is growing. Many young people are going to the many scoileanna in Béal Feirste and beyond and this is proof of its growth.