Belfast Telegraph

UUP leader Swann says Republic example shows folly of Irish language act

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has said that Sinn Fein need only look south of the border to see the impact of an Irish language act.

In a statement on Friday, Mr Swann said: "The experience of the Republic of Ireland should act as a warning as to how legislation is no guarantee to promoting the Irish language.

"After almost a century of compulsory Irish language lessons in schools and support from the State, the use of the Irish language is still in decline and English is the common tongue. And as the previous Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny said on BBC's the View on 26 March 2015, Ireland is ‘an English speaking island’."

The comments were made as Swann questioned Sinn Fein's ongoing commitment to the Irish language act as a red-line issue for restoring the Stormont executive.

"The Belfast Agreement made generous provision for the Irish language and the bottom line is there is no discrimination against Irish speakers," he said.

"Instead of focusing on that which should unite society – the need to tackle waiting-lists, the crisis in school budgets, and the need to create new and better jobs – Northern Ireland is being all but held to ransom by Sinn Fein demands about a language that was politicised by them and used and abused by them for their own selfish reasons."

Writing in an September's edition of Sinn Fein publication An Phoblacht, the party's national chairperson Declan Kearney says that it is possible for an executive to be restored, but that any future version should be one that is "committed to equality and anti-sectarianism and accepts that objective need should be the key determinant of public policy".

On direct rule, Mr Kearney says it is something that has been advocated by "several DUP and UUP politicians", and would "undo all the political progress made to date".

The South Antrim MLA also states that the British government was wrong in its rebuttal of Irish minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney's comments that direct rule could not be imposed without the input of the Irish government, and that a British-Irish partnership would be required should there be no agreement on devolution.

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