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Arlene Foster: Sinn Fein should not hold devolution to ransom for narrow gain on Irish language

DUP leader Arlene Foster writes exclusively for the Belfast Telegraph

Progress is best made in Northern Ireland when all sides of our community can support it. It does not mean that compromise is impossible, but simply that any agreement needs to be fair and proportionate.

This is the case for the current talks to restore devolution. The public want to see the Assembly and Executive back working on the issues of real importance to their lives. Any agreement to bring about that restoration of devolution must be fair and proportionate.

If we want a truly shared society then it cannot be built upon a foundation of one culture or language being given supremacy over another.

The DUP recognises the importance of the Irish language in the lives of many people in Northern Ireland. It is a valuable part of our society and it deserves to be respected and supported by government.

The claims by Sinn Fein that the DUP does not support rights for those who speak Irish are simply wrong, but we are conscious too of the other cultures and traditions that deserve respect and support also.

When the DUP entered talks with the Conservative Party following the outcome of the general election we used our influence to deliver a good deal for Northern Ireland and the United Kingdom in general.

Instead of keeping to a narrow party political agenda, we sought to achieve an agreement to benefit everyone whether they were represented by a Sinn Fein abstentionist MP or a unionist MP.

That meant that as well as protecting the pension triple lock and universal winter fuel payments, the DUP secured investment in infrastructure and help to tackle pressures in health and education, as well as much-needed funding to tackle the legacy that violence has had on mental health in Northern Ireland.

The entire package was worth £1.5bn for people here.

We have also brought this approach to the restoration of devolution. We have not put forward red lines.

We wanted to establish the Executive last Thursday. Sinn Fein blocked this.

These negotiations should have taken place in parallel with a functioning Executive.

I want to get the Executive restored immediately so local ministers can implement key reforms in health and education as well as meet the needs of our community sector by giving them some budget certainty.

Sinn Fein should stop holding devolution to ransom for narrow political advantage with the Irish language.

Any negotiation is most successful when all sides seek an outcome that is acceptable not just to themselves but which can also be supported by the other parties. The narrow shopping list brought by Sinn Fein has not helped in the process.

It is time for Gerry Adams to look at the bigger picture.

We must all refocus our efforts on what is in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland and securing an agreement that can be supported by everyone.

A continued refusal to look beyond the narrow interests of any one party will either see another election or the inevitable introduction of direct rule.

The challenge for Sinn Fein over the next few days is whether they will act in the interests of everyone in Northern Ireland rather than maintain that narrow focus.

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