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Pressure mounts on DUP's Foster to clarify views on Irish Language Act

By Noel McAdam

Arlene Foster is facing growing pressure over her party's refusal to countenance an Irish Language Act.

An open letter to the DUP leader from the Pobal group which met Mrs Foster at Stormont a few weeks ago asked her to clarify the party's stance.

Read more: POBAL Open Letter to Arlene Foster: in full

Mrs Foster last week suggested there could be moves towards some form of support for Irish in the context of an agreement to restore devolution.

But it would have to include support for all cultures including Ulster Scots, "the Orange" and British, she added, rather than specific Irish language legislation.

Read more: Watch: Arlene Foster says thank you in Irish during school visit

In their letter released yesterday, Pobal, which is an umbrella group for the Irish language community, urged Mrs Foster to clarify her stance.

The organisation said it had presented clear, realistic proposals which it believed will contribute "to the enacting, within the near future, of a comprehensive Irish Language Act.

"The need for appropriate domestic legislation for the Irish language... has been a consistent demand from Irish speakers for over 40 years," the letter said.

The St Andrews Agreement of October 2006 had included a pledge that: "The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland, and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language." But while there had been some important developments since, "unfortunately, no similar progress in terms of legislation for the Irish language," the letter went on.

There have been three public consultations by government, since 2007, on the need for Irish language legislation, all of which showed overwhelming and widespread support for Pobal's proposals.

And recent years have also seen the support of international bodies for the introduction of Irish language legislation, including the Committee of Experts on the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages.

"The Irish language here remains the only primary indigenous language in these islands that is not subject to specific domestic legislative protection," the letter continued. "Welsh has been protected by the Welsh Language Act since 1993, and more recently, the legal regime for Welsh has been further developed by the Welsh Language Measure 2011.

"Scottish Gaelic is now subject to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005."

Pobal director Janet Muller, who said she found Mrs Foster "very open" and that they had a "genuine conversation" at their meeting two weeks ago, said legislation is essential "both in terms of satisfying the needs and aspirations of the Irish language community and, also crucially, the legal obligations of the UK."

There was no immediate further response from the DUP although Mrs Foster last week said she had not been told the same things about Irish from activist groups and practitioners compared to Sinn Fein.

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