In North impasse, conflicting words over language

Arlene Foster


By Anthony Neeson

Sinn Féin have told Arlene Foster that she knows what needs to be done to restore the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

On Sunday, the DUP leader accused Sinn Féin of trying to “humiliate” unionists and those who “believe in the British way of life” over their demands for an Irish language act.

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster the DUP leader said: “As we have said since the election in March of this year we want to see our devolved institutions up and running. We want to be back in government. We’ve made that clear all along. We’ve no red lines, but as you know Sinn Féin have put up this barrier around going back into devolution.”

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Foster said she was disappointed by how quickly Sinn Féin rejected her recent proposals to deal with culture and language issues.

“We were very disappointed with the speed of the reaction from Sinn Féin. We thought they would have taken some time to consider the content of the speech. It was a common sense proposal to try and move the process forward, to try and find that solution.

"There’s no point if we’re in a negotiation for each of us to take up positions and not move from those position; we have moved, we have moved to try and be reasonable.

“We’ve moved to try and find a solution for the difficulties that we’re in and it is really now a matter for Sinn Féin as to whether they want to try and build a shared society for everyone here in Northern Ireland.

“That’s certainly the premise of my speech and one where I want to find an agreement that is accepted not just by unionists but by nationalists as well.”

On the subject of an Irish language act, Foster said: “Our position is very clear in relation to the Irish language act. We have failed to be convinced that there is a need for a free-standing Irish language act.

“In many ways this has become a totemic issue in so far as Sinn Féin collapsed the Executive in January, we had an election, people put us back with our respective strengths into the Assembly, and they wanted to see us back in governing in that Assembly immediately.

“But Sinn Féin has decided to ring-fence the free-standing Irish language act in a way that frankly makes it impossible for those of us who want to move forward. This is just being used as a way to humiliate unionism and those of us who believe in the British way of life.”

Sinn Féin’s Upper Bann MLA, John O’Dowd, said the DUP “knows well what is required to restore the Executive”.

“We need to see the implementation of commitments in the Good Friday and other agreements and an end to the denial of language rights, marriage rights and the right to a coroner’s inquest.

“These are rights citizens enjoy everywhere else on these islands.

“Arlene Foster also needs to make her mind up on the Irish language.

“She has said no-one has anything to fear from the Irish language and then claims that an act would be a humiliation for unionists. That’s simply preposterous.”