On Saturday 20th May 2017, several thousand people marched into Belfast City Centre as part of the An Dream Dearg rally calling for the introduction of an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland. I went into town with my camera to document it.
The main parade made its way down from the Falls Road, through Castle Street and rounded into Donegall Place as they sang Óró, sé do bheatha ‘bhaile with the marchers in front leading the head of the parade in chants of “Acht aa Gaeilge Anois” (Irish Language Act Now).
From what could be seen there were no overtly political flags or symbols beyond the An Dream Dearg branding and signature red colour. No tricolours or similar trappings were on show.
Young people were very much at the forefront of the parade. Youth activists, community groups and supporters from schools made up a strong contingent in the rally with political parties remaining within their own groups.
It isn’t a protest in Belfast without someone setting off a smoke-flare.
The youthful focus of the rally was again represented in the speakers with young people singing and speaking in Irish on the stage to the crowd. The political presence at the rally was kept confined to the crowd with a few placards and banners on show from Sinn Fein and People Before Profit. No politicians spoke at the event which focused on activists taking to the stage.
The stand-off over an Irish Language Act forms part of the impasse which current holds the future of power-sharing in the balance.
The DUP have insisted they will not agree to such an act whilst Arlene Foster has met with Irish language speakers to speak about the matter. Sinn Fein continue to hold an Irish Language Act as a red-line in discussions to form a government with the DUP.
At the time of writing there has been no movement on these negotiations as the deadline is extended until after the snap General Election on June 8th 2017. The NI Secretary of State has warned of a return to Direct Rule is an agreement is not reached and power-sharing restored.
Photo Credits: Brendan Harkin