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SF slams Poots' claim DUP did not agree Irish Language Act at talks

By Jonny Bell

The DUP never agreed to an Irish Language Act at St Andrews, according to the party's Edwin Poots.

Signed by the DUP, Sinn Fein and the British and Irish Governments in 2006, the St Andrews Agreement pledged "Government would 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".

However, in an interview with Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan, Mr Poots said the commitment was inserted as part of a "side deal" between Gerry Adams and Prime Minister Tony Blair.

He said the party had honoured "everything they agreed to do" at the negotiations, describing the insertion of the clause as a "dishonourable act" by Mr Blair.

"We have never at any point indicated a desire to bring in an Irish Language Act," said Mr Poots.

"We have honoured what we said we would do."

He added: "The government referred to here is the British Government. Any gripe Sinn Fein has, it is with the British Government.

"The DUP negotiated the St Andrews Agreement. We never agreed to an Irish Language Act.

"We have done what we said we would do. We have done nothing dishonourable.

"The DUP is too strong. Sinn Fein want a weaker brand of unionism to deal with, and we have no problem facing up to that."

In response, Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy said the comments indicated "the problem of doing business with the DUP", and republicans had been "hitting their heads against a brick wall for a long time".

He said: "This shows it is not about money, it's about an antipathy toward a language. If it wasn't, then the DUP would have disowned Gregory Campbell long ago. People what to see rights protected. It was in St Andrews Agreement, and therefore up to the parties to introduce it."

Sinn Fein MLA Barry McElduff said claims that the DUP did not agree to an Irish Language Act at St Andrews were ridiculous.

The party's Irish language spokesman said: "It is utterly ludicrous for Edwin Poots to suggest that the DUP did not sign up to an Irish Language Act and that it is not a matter for them.

"Respect is a matter for everyone.

"It was part of the terms of the St Andrews Agreement. They signed up to that agreement and they have failed to implement it.

"Edwin Poots' remarks this morning highlight the antipathy of the DUP towards the language and shows that they wish to cherry-pick certain elements of the Agreement.

"Acht na Gaeilge is an outstanding issue, previously agreed and well overdue."

The 2006 St Andrews Agreement states in Annex B 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."

Mr Blair's office had not responded to a request for a comment by last night.

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