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SDLP's Patsy McGlone slams DUP leader Arlene Foster's comments on Irish language: 'It belongs to no party. It belongs to no community'

The SDLP's Patsy McGlone has slammed comments by Arlene Foster about the Irish language and said that they underscore the need for statutory protection for Irish speakers.

The DUP leader said her party will never agree to an Irish language act. Mrs Foster said if there was to be an Irish language act, there should be a Polish language act because more people in Northern Ireland speak Polish than Irish.

Referring to Sinn Fein demands, she told a party event in Lurgan: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."

In response to Mrs Foster's comments, Sinn Fein's Gerry Adams joked: "See you later, alligator".

Mr Adams was attending Sinn Fein's candidate unveiling event in Belfast alongside the party's new Stormont leader Michelle O'Neill.

Mrs O'Neill declined to be drawn on Mrs Foster's comments.

"We are not interested in negativity," she said.

"We are fighting this campaign. We have launched our candidates here this morning on the basis of three key principles - respect, equality for all, and integrity in the political institutions.

"That's our job of work, that's what we are concerned with."

SDLP Mid Ulster candidate Patsy McGlone: "The offensive frenzy that has gripped the DUP in an effort to distract from their disastrous management of government and the millions they have cost the tax payers fools no one. But for a party leader who is campaigning to be a part of a partnership government to speak so offensively about an entire community reveals the corruption at the core of the last Executive that led to its collapse.

"The Irish Language belongs to no party. It belongs to no community. It is a communal element of our rich cultural inheritance and that cannot be diminished by anyone. Today's comments, rooted in the politics of division and hate stand in stark contrast to the opportunity to embrace cooperation and compromise for the common good that this election offers.

"Whatever happens, at the far side of the election, the need for statutory protection for Irish Language speakers is all the more important. Arlene Foster has proven today that there are parties that refuse to respect the rights and ambitions of those who speak Irish. In those circumstances, those rights and protections must be written into law. Before the collapse of the institutions, I was preparing an Irish Language Act. That work will continue. It is more important than ever."

Speaking earlier during the launch of the DUP campaign for the 2017 Assembly election, Mrs Foster said Gerry Adams, not Michelle O'Neill, is "front and centre" of the Sinn Fein campaign.

She said: "So concerned were Sinn Fein about their faltering cause that Gerry Adams replaced Sinn Fein's leader with one of his own. Be very clear Michelle O'Neill was selected by Gerry Adams and she will be instructed by Gerry Adams.

"Lets be very clear, at this election Gerry Adams is no longer in the shadows. He is front and centre of Sinn Fein's campaign.

"Come election day, Sinn Fein could have enough seats to become the biggest party. Just imagine what Gerry Adams' radical agenda would mean for our way of life," said Mrs Foster.

She said she understands the anger people feel over the botched renewable heating scheme.

"No one feels worse about what happened than I do. I know for some doubts remain about the scheme and my role in it. I know for my part I have done nothing wrong. I know any investigation will clear my name.

"We all know this election is not about the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI). The RHI merely gives Sinn Fein the cover to bring down Stormont and force an election when they thought the DUP had been weakened.

"Make no mistake , Gerry Adams is back and centre stage. (Michelle O'Neill) was handpicked by Gerry Adams. She will be there to seek to implement Adams' radical plan ... We are in for the fight our political lives."

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