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Foster's 'softening of stance' on Irish Language Act

By Noel McAdam

Arlene Foster has strongly hinted that moves towards the introduction of Irish Language legislation could be part of a deal to restore Stormont.

The DUP leader suggested such a development would have to come in the context of support for all cultures, including Ulster-Scots and "the Orange".

She appeared to have softened her stance from February when she firmly ruled out an Irish Language Act and made the remark: "If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more."

Asked if her position had changed, Mrs Foster said: "I said there wouldn't be (an Act), in terms of nothing else happening, in terms of culture and language.

"We have been in negotiations for some time and we have been putting forward that we need to respect all cultures, including the Ulster-Scots, the Orange, the British culture.

"If there are to be moves forward in terms of cultural tolerance and respect then it has to be in the context of doing that, and we are very clear in relation to that."

The comments came after a recent series of meetings between her and Irish language groups and activists.

The meetings included one with Pobal, the independent advocacy group for the Irish language, and Conradh na Gaelige, a forum for Irish speakers.

Mrs Foster said that what she had been told at some of the meetings differed from what she had been hearing from Sinn Fein.

She said that during the Stormont election in March she had come under fire for predicting the result could be close - yet it ended up with the DUP just one seat ahead of Sinn Fein in the new Assembly. The two parties were only 1,400 votes apart.

Mrs Foster said she was also excoriated for the number of times she personalised the campaign by mentioning Gerry Adams - 18 times in one speech alone.

But she said there was hardly a unionist now who when pressed would say she had been "scaremongering", given the actions of Mr Adams in refusing to restore the Executive since.

"The stakes could not be higher for unionism in Northern Ireland. The Assembly election results served as a wake-up call for the unionist community. This Westminster election gives unionism the chance to get back on the right track," she said.

"The Prime Minister's decision to hold a snap poll provides a basis to make the positive case for the Union."

Deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: "We are ready to go into government today. It is Sinn Fein putting up red lines for issues that for most people of Northern Ireland are not the most important issues.

"Sinn Fein is holding out (on restoring devolution) for narrow partisan reasons. That's a tragedy for Northern Ireland and a disgrace for Sinn Fein."

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