On 7 June 2022, the second reading of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill [HL] is scheduled to take place in the House of Lords.

Among other things, the bill would:

  • require specified public authorities to have due regard to “national and cultural identity principles” (as defined in the bill) when carrying out functions in Northern Ireland
  • create an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to promote awareness of the national and cultural identity principles and monitor public authorities’ compliance with their duty
  • provide for the official recognition of the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland and require the appointment of an Irish Language Commissioner to promote its use by public authorities
  • require a commissioner be appointed to promote the language and culture associated with the Ulster Scots and Ulster British tradition
  • require the Northern Ireland Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the use and understanding of Ulster Scots

The measures in the bill were agreed by the five main political parties in Northern Ireland, and by the UK and Irish governments, as part of the ‘New decade, new approach’ deal published in January 2020. 

As the measures relate to devolved matters for Northern Ireland, it was intended that the Northern Ireland Assembly and executive would take the legislation forward. However, as the legislation had not been progressed in Northern Ireland, the UK government has now acted on its commitment to legislate on the matter instead.

Sinn Féin and Irish language groups have been calling on the UK government to intervene and have welcomed the bill’s introduction. However, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has criticised the government for introducing legislation on the subject before dealing with their concerns about the current operation of the Northern Ireland Protocol. These concerns have also led to the DUP blocking the formation of a new Northern Ireland executive following assembly elections on 5 May 2022. In addition, the Ulster Scots Language Society has expressed reservations about the legislation, believing it will provide greater benefit to the Irish language than to Ulster Scots.


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