Sunday 18 November 2018

Bertie warns Mary Lou: Think of unionist feelings on language act

Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill arrive at Government Buildings in Dublin for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson /PA Wire
Sinn Féin's Conor Murphy, Mary Lou McDonald and Michelle O'Neill arrive at Government Buildings in Dublin for a meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Photo: Niall Carson /PA Wire

Shona Murray and Ralph Riegel

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has poured cold water on Sinn Féin demands for a stand-alone Irish language act, warning it has to be conscious of the feelings of unionists.

"If anybody seriously believes that you're going to convince the loyalist people in the Shankill that they should have Irish signs - they'll be waiting," he told RTÉ's 'Claire Byrne Live' last night.

He said the act "can't be seen as a victory and we're going to shove it down their (unionists) throats".

"I think that the message has been received so, in fairness to Sinn Féin, it has seemed to receive that but it has to be seen and understood, otherwise loyalists and unionists are going to get at Arlene, which makes her position untenable."

Meanwhile, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Simon Coveney met new Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald and her deputy, Michelle O'Neill, at Government Buildings last night.

They spoke for around 90 minutes and agreed on their united commitment to the Good Friday Agreement.

Bertie Ahern poured cold water on Sinn Féin demands for a stand-alone Irish language act. Photo: Steve Humphreys
Bertie Ahern poured cold water on Sinn Féin demands for a stand-alone Irish language act. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Both sides also agreed any move towards direct rule from Westminster would be highly regressive and something Dublin could not countenance.

Mr Varadkar spoke to British Prime Minister Theresa May on the phone following the meeting. He reiterated Dublin's "firm position" that the Good Friday Agreement must be implemented in full, and that the Irish Government does not want to see the introduction of direct rule in Northern Ireland.

A Downing Street spokesperson last night said Mrs May told Mr Varadkar that she believed "there was scope for agreement" and reiterated that it was still her government's priority to get devolution up and running again. Both leaders agreed to remain in close contact.

Earlier, Mr Coveney had warned that the re-imposition of direct rule would "rip the heart" from the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Coveney is travelling to New York and Washington this afternoon for a series of meetings with the Trump administration. He is due to give an address at Columbia University on Brexit and give the keynote speech on the Good Friday Agreement at a special event in New York entitled Ireland's '20 Years of Peace'.

Mr Ahern also took a pop at Mrs May last night. He said she has been preoccupied with addressing the various battles within her own party which has distracted her from her responsibilities in Northern Ireland.

"I think Theresa May has not given enough time to Northern Ireland as she's trying to keep about five sides of her own cabinet together.

"It's not good enough to breeze in and meet nobody - that's not negotiating at all."

Irish Independent

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