The DUP’s minister for culture in the Six Counties, Edwin Poots, has given no commitment on providing an Irish language Act despite a high-profile meeting with Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Poots warned that any such legislation would require cross community consent, and spoke of the need for “a cost benefit analysis”.
In response to a reporter’s question, Mr Poots claimed he knew as much Irish as many assembly members including Sinn Féin, pointing out that he knew that the word “bainne” means milk.
Speaking after the meeting, Mr Adams was resolute: “There needs to be an act, and there will be an act.”
However, any legislation must now be passed by the new Assembly, in which the DUP holds an effective veto.
Mr Adams said he had a good meeting with the minister, but insisted that the act was part of last year’s St Andrews Agreement.
He also appealed to unionists not to see the Irish language as a republican or Sinn Féin language, pointing out that Protestants historically had striven to protect the language as it was part of everyone’s heritage.
“Even the word Ulster comes from the Irish language. Numerous place names we use (such as) Shankill, Ballymena, Ballymoney, Belfast, Malone.
“You could go on forever and ever and ever.”
Mr Poots insisted he was not bound by promises made by the former British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, and that his party did not negotiate the Irish language Act at St Andrews.
He added it was up to his department to make recommendations but it was then a matter for the executive and assembly.
“Ultimately we have to achieve cross-community consensus and cross-community support to win this one,” he said.
In an interview this week he pointedly told the BBC: “We need maturity on all sides.
“We need people to be reflective and if individuals think they can use this as a political weapon and ram it down other people’s throats, then that is not going to be an effective means of doing this.”
Concubhar O Liathain, editor of the Irish language newspaper La Nua, said Irish language speakers want the right to services in Irish.
He says it is important that Irish language activists get their rights enshrined in legislation, once and for all.
“For too long the Irish language has been subject to the whims and vagaries of political fortune,” he said.
“A right-based approach would make it part of the landscape ...(with legislation) there is no need then to make the argument any more that we need these rights.
“The rights are there and it’s up to the state to figure out a way to implement them cost-effectively and efficiently.”
But there is still opposition among unionists to, for example, bilingual signs on government buildings.