DUP leader Arlene Foster: 'It is wrong to portray me as anti-Irish language'
DUP leader Arlene Foster has insisted it is wrong to portray her as anti-Irish language.
Speaking at a Northern Ireland Chambers event in Belfast, Mrs Foster said people are "absolutely entitled" to "express themselves through their love of the Irish language or Irish culture".
Mrs Foster faced furious criticism recently after she said she would not be supporting the introduction of an Irish Language Act, as part of a series of measures to facilitate the restoration of power-sharing after the March Assembly elections.
Speaking at the launch of her party's election campaign in Lurgan recently, Mrs Foster said: "If we have an Irish language act, maybe we should have a Polish language act as well because there are more people in Northern Ireland who speak Polish, compared to Irish."
Referring to Sinn Fein demands, she said: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."
However, speaking during the NI Chamber's 5 Leaders; 5 Days series, Mrs Foster insisted that just because she is not in favour of an Irish language act, does not mean she is anti-Irish language.
"People are absolutely entitled, and they want to be encouraged, to express themselves through their love of the Irish language or Irish culture," said Mrs Foster.
"My difficulty with the Irish language act is around the cost, the fact it would have equity and equality with the English language that in terms of the civil service, there would have to be affirmative action for people who were Irish speakers and there would be criminal offences if people didn't co-operate with an Irish language commissioner, all of those things.
"It is wrong to portray me in a way that I am anti-Irish language. That is not the case at all.
Mrs Foster described her experiences over the past two months, both personally and politically, as "brutal".
She said after she came back from her business trip to China late last year, "all hell had broken lose" in Stormont.
"The level of respect for difference, the level of tolerance isn't there at the moment. I deeply regret that," she said.
"I would wish for a more respectful, tolerant politics and maybe this might be a watershed moment and we have that after the election takes place."
Meanwhile, Sinn Fein's Mairtin O Muilleoir has told a meeting of the finance ministers from Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales and the British Treasury that the British Government should fulfil its obligations on an Irish language Act.
"At the meeting I told David Gauke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, that Tory policies have undermined the peace, reconciliation and political processes in the North.
"For too long the Tories have provided cover for DUP disrespect to the Irish language and identity.
"Nowhere is that clearer than in their opposition to an Irish Language Act, which was promised in the St Andrew's Agreement but has not been delivered to date due to the DUP-Tory tag team of intolerance," the finance minister said.