Belfast Telegraph

Irish Language Act impasse 'madness' says Maurice Hayes

By Declan Bogue and Noel McAdam

A former senior civil servant who earned the trust of both traditions during the Troubles has slammed the current political impasse over an Irish Language Act as "madness".

Dr Maurice Hayes (90) - a life-long Irish speaker and former county hurler and GAA official - said the public would find it hard to understand the demand for a stand-alone language act while the health service was suffering.

He also criticised the DUP for its "general lack of respect".

Dr Hayes was the first Catholic Northern Ireland Ombudsman, served as Permanent Secretary at the Department of Health and Social Services and was chairman of the Acute Hospitals Review Group and the Community Relations Council.

He was also one of the major contributors to the Patten Report which dealt with policing reform and led to the creation of the PSNI.

One of the key stumbling blocks in the talks to restore Stormont has been Sinn Fein's insistence on an Irish Language Act - which the DUP will not agree to. However, Sinn Fein has in turn rejected a wider act that legislates for Ulster Scots and aspects of unionist culture.

As he looked forward to Sunday's Ulster Gaelic football final between his native Down and Tyrone, Dr Hayes had harsh words for Northern Ireland's political leaders.

"You know what I think is madness at the minute? The Irish Language Act," he told the Belfast Telegraph.

"For Christ's sake, what about an oul guy waiting for a heart bypass?

"And somebody comes along and says, 'It's great, we are getting an Irish Language Act'.

"What does that do for my heart bypass?

"That's one bit of it. I am getting worried about the amount of money spent on it, and duplication."

He went on to explain: "I think the language should be respected. This is one of the troubles with the DUP, is the general lack of respect.

"I mean, they remind me of the 17th century religious pamphleteers, they couldn't pass anything without giving it a kick.

"But to take it further and want a free-standing Irish Language Act - I mean if you are getting the substance of what you are looking for, what does it matter what way it is packaged?

"There's dangers then of 'well, our culture deserves respected, but yours doesn't'.

"So I think it's an awful thing to sink the ship on, but there it is."

Meanwhile, talks to restore Stormont are continuing at a low level despite busting through the most recent deadline.

The SDLP and Alliance have meetings planned this week with some of the other parties.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood MLA warned: "The clock is still ticking to secure a deal."

With Westminster due to begin its summer recess in less than a fortnight, the Foyle MLA argued that the "public deserve to know what efforts are being made to secure a deal over the summer".

"It cannot simply be a case of let's wait and see.

"Over the coming days, I urge all parties to knuckle down, we must bring forward a budget that works in the interests of all people," Mr Eastwood added.

Maurice Hayes interview, Page 46

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