Belfast Telegraph

Irish Language Act could breach Good Friday deal, says QC

By Noel McAdam

The Good Friday Agreement could be contravened by a standalone Irish Language Act (ILA), a legal expert has claimed.

An ILA is one of the key stumbling blocks in the talks to restore Stormont - and one of Sinn Fein's central demands.

Austen Morgan, who was once a legal adviser to David Trimble, argued there could be a court challenge if an ILA excluding other cultures was introduced.

The QC, the author of The Belfast Agreement: a Practical Legal Analysis, claimed an Act that protected only the rights of Irish speakers would violate a key clause in the Good Friday deal promoting parity of esteem between all cultures in Northern Ireland.

Specifically, he said an ILA could be said to breach paragraph three of article one of the agreement on equality.

This refers to "the importance of respect, understanding and tolerance in relation to linguistic diversity, including in Northern Ireland, the Irish language, Ulster-Scots and the languages of the various ethnic communities".

Mr Morgan, who was born in Londonderry, stressed: "An Irish Language Act would not be per se contrary.

"However, in the Sinn Fein-DUP context, where the latter offered a Culture Act, it would appear that the advancement of Irish was contrary to other languages.

"The [court] challenge could be to a Northern Ireland department or the Secretary of State, to prevent them acceding to Sinn Fein's demand. An applicant could seek a declaration that it was contrary to the Belfast Agreement."

It is understood the DUP favours a more all-embracing Culture Act that would also incorporate British, Protestant and Orange culture.

Meanwhile, DUP MP Sammy Wilson has poured scorn on a legal challenge against his party's deal with the Conservatives to support them in power in return for an extra £1bn for Northern Ireland.

Mr Wilson said: "The only [ones] who will make anything out of this will be the lawyers of the person who is running it. Fools and their money are easily parted.

"The amount that has been raised shows you that there are still quite a few fools about."

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