A unionist threat to block recognition of the Irish language in the north of Ireland has been condemned.
First promised more than two decades ago, legislation on the rights of Irish language speakers was agreed as part of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ in January 2020 and was supposed to be completed within 100 days. The key agreement, which enabled the restoration of the North’s political institutions, remains unimplemented over a year later.
Now, as part of the ongoing row over Brexit, the DUP have threatened to spike it once again.
The deal includes a commitment to giving official recognition to the Irish language and appointing a commissioner to recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language. The agreement includes similar pledges in relation to Ulster Scots.
But there have been reports that hardline members of the DUP are seeking to sabotage moves to deliver on the deal. While the reports were denied by DUP leader Arlene Foster, there are still concerns that what is left of the ‘New Decade, New Approach’ deal could be unravelled by unionists as a means to protest new Brexit-related checks at Larne and Belfast ports.
Sinn Féin’s John O’Dowd said the legislation must be delivered in line with commitments made in the painstaking negotiations of 2019.
“There will be no renegotiation and backsliding on commitments made,” he said.
“The rights of the Irish language community cannot be held hostage to the disaster of the Tory DUP Brexit. This commitment must be delivered on.”
SDLP Irish language spokesperson Patsy McGlone said Irish speakers should “not be victim to DUP intolerance again”, while People Before Profit Assembly member Gerry Carroll said any attempt by the DUP to “hold Irish language rights for ransom” would be a “shameful attack on Gaeilgeoirí”.
Aontú’s representative for East Derry, Gemma Brolly, said the Irish language was being used as a “bargaining chip”.
“While these actions appear to have little consequence for our political leaders, there is a nation of people, deeply concerned and lacking more and more in confidence in the political institutions of the North regarding provision for the language they cherish,” she said.
MULTIPLE DUP THREATS
There have been contradictory accounts of whether the DUP are planning to pull down the Stormont political institutions in response to the Brexit outcome, with loyalist paramilitary figures insisting that is what they were told was a possible measure in a meeting with the party last month.
“We make no secret of the fact we see this ending in the bringing down of the Northern Ireland Executive. [DUP leader] Arlene Foster was left under no illusion that this is something she would have to take responsibility for,” loyalist spokesperson David Campbell said this week.
There were also suggestions the DUP could abandon devolution of as a result of a threat this week by the British government to introduce legislation for abortion over the heads of Stormont Ministers, who have repeatedly failed to reach agreement on the issue.
Assembly member John O’Dowd said he was bewildered by the situation within the DUP. Speaking on BBC’s The View, he said:
“I personally don’t know whats going on within the DUP. I have done several interviews this week with DUP representatives and I’ve got different messages from each of those representatives.
“I am beginning to believe that the ‘D’ in DUP stands for dysfunctional. So the DUP need to get themselves gathered up, decide what they’re going to do, let the rest of us know what they’re going to do, and politics needs to respond to that accordingly.”