An extraordinary unionist attempt to ban the use of the Irish language at the Belfast Assembly has been defeated.
Despite a decision by the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to avoid a snap general election this year, the political temperature has risen in the North over a number of issues, particularly the Irish language.
Ulster Unionist David McNarry said Irish was being “thrown in their faces” at the Assembly, and that it should be stopped.
He said: “There is no demand here, just a request, no abuse of anybody’s rights and I reject any attempt by any republican to smear any unionist by branding him a bigot.”
But Sinn Fein triggered a mechanism that required the motion to win cross-community support, ensuring its failure. The move required a petition of concern to be signed by 23 Sinn Fein Assembly members and 8 SDLP Assembly members.
Sinn Fein’s Caral Ni Chuilin said the debate had sparked scores of fresh Irish language recruits.
“The issue of language rights, a non-controversial issue in Wales, Scotland, the Republic of Ireland and throughout Europe, an expression of human rights, has now become a political football in the battle for supremacy between the unionist parties,” she said.
“The determination of unionist politicians to block any recognition of the Irish language is a misguided and macho demonstration of anti-Irish bigotry.
“It’s almost as if unionism has decided to define itself by how ferociously anti-Irish it is - pathetic.”
Nelson McCausland of the DUP compared nationalist support for the language to a cultural war.
Sinn Fein’s Gerry Kelly opened his address by speaking in Ulster-Scots -- a dialect of Scottish English dating from the Plantation of Ulster, which is often treated similarly to the native Irish language by northern officials.
Kelly also spoke in Irish, translating his comments, but prompting Mr McNarry to indicate that he was sickened by the practice.
Mr Kelly said it was convention that any statements made in a language other than English is translated fully and accurately by the member immediately following a contribution.
He added the use of Irish or Ulster-Scots in correspondence was a matter for each minister.
Recently, the North’s Health Ministry was ordered to stop using the Irish language by the new Minister for Health, Ulster Unionist Michael McGimpsey. The move countermanded decisions previously taken by Sinn Fein’s Bairbre de Brun when she was Health Minister in the previous Executive.
NORTH V. SOUTH ON INVESTMENT
Meanwhile, the North’s Enterprise, trade and investment minister Nigel Dodds has ruled out the possibility of merging Invest NI with its counterpart in the 26 Counties, the Industrial Development Agency (IDA), to create an all-Ireland body to promote inward investment.
The minister was responding to a call by Dr Alan Gillespie, chairman of Ulster Bank and former chairman of Invest NI.
Mr Gillespie, regarded as a traditional unionist, described the IDA as “the best in its class”.
“We should promote an all-island economy through a single joined-up effective agency, with the IDA and Invest NI no longer competitors, but fully collaborative,” he said.
But Dr Gillespie’s comments received short shrift from Mr Dodds, who claimed the North’s economy was “doing well in many important respects” and described the IDA as Invest NI’s “direct competition”.
In other news, a long delay in appointing a Victims’ Commission has been again delayed by the Office of the First and Deputy First Ministers. Sinn Fein’s Martin McGuinness and the DUP’s Ian Paisley are to re-advertise the post amid reports of continuing disagreement over the appointment.
And Sinn Fein has indicated that a controversy over the construction of a visitor’s centre at the landmark Giant’s Causeway site on the Antrim coast could damage its relationship with the DUP in the power-sharing executive.
North Antrim MLA Daithi McKay said that his party would “review our situation within government” over allegations that the DUP corruptly contracted a party friend to build the centre.