Wales: New Government – New Language Rights

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Wed Jul 4 16:19:20 UTC 2007

  Wales: New Government – New Language Rights [image: Print]
Saturday, 30 June 2007 by Huw Jones     Following weeks of debate and
argument, the National Assembly of Wales has a Labour/Plaid Cymru coalition
government. The parties joint policy document "One Wales" features a clear
vision for the ongoing development of the Welsh language. Although coalition
governments are common across other parts of Europe it is unusual for two
parties to come together to share power within the British governmental
system. Following elections on 3 May, Labour won more seats than any other
party but not sufficient to form a majority. Discussions took place between
Plaid Cymru, the Conservatives and The Liberal Democrats to try to overthrow
Labour with a 'Rainbow Alliance'. However, the idea of sharing power with
the Conservatives proved too much for many Plaid Cymru members who regard
the Tories as their arch enemies.

Plaid Cymru were remarkably successful in obtaining concessions from Labour
with the two parties signing a "One Wales" agreement which refers to holding
a referendum within four years on the question of granting more powers to
the Assembly. "One Wales" pact also promises to give equal status to the
Welsh and English languages, to give Welsh official, working status at the
EU level,  create a commissioner to investigate language right abuses,
recognize the right to receive consumer services through the medium of
Welsh, a specific commitment to support the establishment of a Welsh
language daily newspaper, and a ".cym" domain for the internet.

Although the commitment to greater rights appear to be another victory for
the radical pressure group Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gyrmaeg (The Welsh Language
Society), who have been campaigning for new legislation, the Cymdeithas have
been cautious in welcoming the new government's announcement. "Of course we
realize that as they stand, these are only promises on paper and that a
great deal of work will have to be done before they are fully realized. But
the last thing we want is another weak and ineffective Welsh Language Act."
Said Dafydd Morgan Lewis on behalf of the Cymdeithas.

He added, "It is worth noting that this commitment to the Welsh language by
Plaid and Labour, and the other main parties during the debate in the
Assembly yesterday, comes at the same time as the Adecco company in Cardiff
bans staff in Cardiff from speaking Welsh. This ban, which follows a similar
ban by the Thomas Cook company a few weeks ago proves yet again how weak
language legislation is in Wales at the moment." Over the past 30 years
Cymdeithas have succeed in winning a number of changes in legislation in the
hope of obtaining official status for Welsh but without ensuring full
equality with English Supporters of the Welsh language also realize that
many within the Labour Party are unhappy with the "One Wales" pact and will
do their upmost to ensure that it does not come into effect. There will also
be considerable opposition from private companies who will resist any
measures that might result in higher costs.

The recent developments in Wales are being watched with interest by many
linguistic communities throughout Europe, particularly in the six counties
of northern Ireland where a substantial campaign is underway to gain far
more basic rights for the Irish language.  Supporters of Irish hope that
that granting further rights for Welsh will make it more difficult to refuse
their demands. (Eurolang 2007)

One Wales policy document

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