The British government has reneged on new Irish language legislation at the insistence of the DUP.
Draft legislation setting out the proposed remit of the Irish Language Act was due to have been published by the British government at the London parliament last week.
British civil servants were said to have been working through the night to get the legislation passed before the devolved assembly is up and running on March 26.
One of Sinn Féin’s key demands going in to the St Andrew’s talks, the DUP has vowed to block the proposals if they come before the Belfast assembly.
Political parties and Irish language campaigners had been expecting the publication of the legislation, but the British government announced a further period of ‘consultation’.
“[The British] Government recognises that there is a divergence of views within Northern Ireland with respect to the role of the Irish language in public life,” said Direct-Rule minister Maria Eagle. “In the event that the Northern Ireland Assembly is fully functioning from March 26 2007 it will be a matter for the assembly to take forward any legislation.”
The move threatens to kill off the legislation, as the DUP will veto its passage at the Belfast Assembly.
SDLP assembly member Dominic Bradley said there was “no need” for further consultation and called on the British government to begin the process of enacting the law immediately.
“This is a piece of pure political theatre pointing towards yet another shoddy side deal,” he said.
“The virulent anti-Irish lobby in the DUP is being given an opportunity to sabotage the St Andrew’s commitment, because a further 12-week consultation would mean that the legislative window at Westminster would close.”
Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams has accused the British government of “bad faith” and said the introduction of the second consultation was a “clear breach of a commitment”.