Monday 19 November 2018

Irish and UK governments should legislate for an Irish Language Act in the North - SDLP leader

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood
SDLP leader Colum Eastwood

Colm Kelpie

The Irish and British Governments should bring in an Irish Language Act and other key pieces of legislation in the North as a way of getting Stormont back up and running, SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has said.

In a speech at Trinity College in Dublin, Mr Eastwood said the breakdown of the Stormont talks process, and the move towards direct rule to implement a budget, was of “critical consequence” to the aim of restoring devolution.

He called on the Irish and British Governments, as part of the Intergovernmental Conference, to agree and implement a package of legislation. This, he said, should include much of the draft accommodation that was agreed between the DUP and Sinn Féin. 

“This package would include legislation for an Irish language Act and an Ulster Scots Act,” Mr Eastwood said.

“It should include the establishment of legacy bodies and the release of inquest monies. I am also proposing that it should also include the reform of the Petition of Concern in order that marriage equality can finally be brought to the North.

“If these two parties couldn’t bring the deal over the line – then the two governments should do it for them.”

Mr Eastwood said that it needs to be admitted that “realpolitik tells us it will be very difficult to do [a deal] anytime soon”.

“Deals are rarely done when all available energy is being invested in a political blame game,” he said.

“This was not just a breakdown of a negotiation or of a relationship between two political parties – this now threatens to be a fundamental breakdown of all the progress that we have achieved since Good Friday 1998.”

He said the Good Friday Agreement was the best defence against the “economic and political dangers of Brexit, and the best escape from the narrowness of its ideological vision".

The speech took place at the School of Ecumenics at Trinity.

Mr Eastwood said he believed that if the two governments moved to implement the package of legislation he proposes, the DUP would oppose it, but would want it to happen so it can get back into government in the North.

“The DUP is at sea now,” he said.

“If there’s an election to Westminster, the DUP are out on their ear. They must understand the instability of that position. But equally, the British government has no head space or legislative space to start running Northern Ireland again.”

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