Thursday 14 December 2017

'Blair conned SF on Irish Language Act' - Robinson

Former Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson. Picture: PA
Former Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson. Picture: PA

Suzanne Breen

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson has accused Tony Blair's government of "conning" Sinn Féin into believing that an Irish Language Act would be introduced.

Mr Robinson made his revelation as talks to save Stormont enter their final hours with Sinn Féin demanding that outstanding agreements on the Irish language are honoured.

The former first minister insisted his party had never agreed to any such legislation. He accused the British government of deliberately misleading Sinn Féin and of changing a document without the DUP's knowledge.

He claimed that the Rev Ian Paisley was so troubled by the deception of Sinn Féin, and by the British government's double-dealing, that he vowed to conduct all future negotiations directly with republicans.

Mr Robinson said: "It was Ian's assessment - and in my view an accurate one - that if the government was prepared to con Sinn Féin in the way it did, they would be prepared to do the same to us."

He revealed how "in later life Martin McGuinness and I often spoke about the different, inexact and misleading messages we were given during earlier negotiations when the Blair government was acting as intermediary".

In his recollection of events during the 2006 St Andrews' talks, Mr Robinson said that while Sinn Féin genuinely believed an agreement to implement an Irish Language Act had been reached, there had been only "a tongue in cheek" promise by the government.

Mr Robinson said the issue was "never raised" with his party during the negotiations. He believes a reference was inserted into the agreement at the very end of the talks.

"We were not informed of any change to the document," he said. When the DUP noticed the "added section", it informed the government that it was "unacceptable" to the party.

"We were told the section had been carefully and deliberately worded. It was not an issue that should cause us any concern," Mr Robinson said.

"They informed us that as devolution would be up and running the government would not make good its commitment as the power would be devolved.

"At no stage did Ian commit the party to accepting an Irish Language Act and indeed we made sure there was no commitment to it in the legislation."

Mr Robinson said Dr Paisley had been "intensely displeased" by the Blair administration's trickery.

The DUP and Sinn Féin have just over 24 hours to reach an agreement. However, Stormont sources last night said they believed that, if no deal was possible, the deadline would be fudged.

Irish Independent

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