Friday 24 January 2020

No Stormont assembly without an Irish language Act - Gerry Adams

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Photo: Reuters
Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams. Photo: Reuters

Siobhan Fenton

Irish language rights remain a make or break issue for power-sharing in Northern Ireland, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has warned.

Amid preliminary talks on the potential to revive Stormont negotiations, the republican leader insisted that progress on the language was not about threatening unionists but respecting traditions.

Mr Adams said: "Let's be very, very clear - there won't be an Assembly without an Acht na Gaelige [Irish Language Act]. The DUP know that, the governments know that.

"I understand that there are elements within unionism who think that this is in some way threatening but it's a matter of whether we want this part of the island to embrace everyone.

"You don't have to agree with everyone but you do have to have a legislative basis for respect and that includes the Irish language act."

Politicians from five of Northern Ireland's parties have declared their support an Irish language act, saying a majority of politicians at Stormont now support rights being enshrined in legislation.

Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA
Sinn Féin’s Michelle O’Neill, Gerry Adams and Mary Lou McDonald. Photo: PA

Democratic Unionists remain opposed to the reform but there have been suggestions that a broader piece of legislation which includes provisions for Ulster Scots speakers could achieve cross-community backing.

Read More: Irish politicians should avoid the united Ireland cul-de-sac

Conradh na Gaelige, which has spearheaded the campaign for Irish speakers, said 50 of Stormont's 90 MLAs now support the proposed legislation - a majority in the Assembly.

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon, Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw, Green Party MLA and party leader in Northern Ireland Steven Agnew and People Before Profit MLA Gerry Carroll joined Mr Adams as part of the campaign.

President of Irish language advocacy group Conradh na Gaelige said: "The message from today's event is very clear: there is widespread, cross-party, majority support for a stand-alone Irish Language Act.

"That support translates to 50 out of 90 MLAs and an historic majority support within the Assembly for the first time.

"Given this majority, we now call on those who continue to oppose a stand-alone Irish language act to reflect on their position and to acknowledge that the time for change is now."

Read More: We don't need SF and DUP to love each other - we just need them to stand up for their voters

Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney met Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire in Dublin. Picture: PA
Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney met Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire in Dublin. Picture: PA

The UK and Irish governments have been speaking with members of the political parties this week to try to restart the stalled talks process at Stormont.

Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire and Simon Coveney, Foreign Affairs Minister in Dublin, have been attempting to sound out the positions of Sinn Fein and the DUP to see if further talks are likely to result in a deal to restore the executive.

Some members of the DUP's Westminster team have already said it is time for direct rule.

However, Mr Brokenshire is reluctant to make that move. One option open to him is to stop MLA salaries and strip them of their titles in a bid to progress negotiations.

The parties have until October to reach agreement before public services begin to suffer badly. At this point Mr Brokenshire would have to legislate for increased UK Government intervention.

DUP leader Arlene Foster is due to make a speech on Thursday evening outlining her position on the talks process.

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