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Foster is bowing down to Irish speakers in bid to get deal, claims angry Allister

By Rebecca Black

Arlene Foster has been accused of bending the knee to the Irish language community after she met with two groups at Stormont yesterday.

TUV leader Jim Allister claimed the DUP was "weakening" in its stated stance against an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland.

But a DUP spokesman said Mrs Foster was simply engaging in a listening exercise, and described the engagement so far as "useful".

Mrs Foster met with both Pobal and Conradh na Gaeilge at Stormont.

It came a day after she visited the Irish language department of Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry.

Pobal said its delegation was left feeling "optimistic" after a "very positive" meeting with Mrs Foster.

Director Janet Muller said she felt "hopeful" for the future.

"I would certainly hope so," she said when asked if an Irish Language Act was close, but added: "These are complex matters".

"I am optimistic after today's meeting, hopefully the result will be an effective Irish Language Act."

The DUP's refusal to back an Act was one of the sticking points in the now paused talks to save Stormont.

Last month Mrs Foster said she planned to meet with Irish language groups to listen to the views of those who speak the language.

Conradh na Gaeilge president Dr Niall Comer said he believed his group "got a good hearing".

"It is useful that we had a meeting today in which we put our proposals for an Irish Language Act before the party, and the costs associated with them, as in the discussion document," he said.

"The Irish language community have been waiting too long for the State to bring in legislation that will protect these language-related human rights.

"The talks period is almost over, and now is the time for action."

Mrs Foster did not speak to the media after the two meetings yesterday, but following Wednesday's discussions she said: "There is nothing to be feared from engaging with another culture, in fact I think it's a sign of strength if you engage with another culture that's not your own."

However, Mr Allister accused the DUP of "genuflecting" to the Irish language sector.

He accused Mrs Foster of "preparing to pay Sinn Fein's price for the return to office".

"TUV is unequivocal in opposing the imposition of an Irish Language Act under any guise," he said.

"The Irish language is already feted with special funding, a North/South executive body and a privileged Irish-medium education sector.

"Insatiable Sinn Fein and its satellites, like Pobal, demand more official status for Irish in Northern Ireland; Irish in our courts, on our road signs and on all Government documents; preferment of Irish speakers in the public sector with adverse employment consequences for non-Irish speakers, and huge commitment of public money to finance this de-Britishisation programme.

"Having brashly decreed it would not 'feed the crocodile', and that it was 'Never, Never, Never' to an Irish Language Act, the DUP is clearly weakening its stance and readying to pay the price after the election. Unionists beware."

But the DUP responded to the TUV criticism by saying Mrs Foster was "engaged in a listening exercise".

"The engagement so far has been useful," a party spokesman he said.

"She has met a wide range of groups and individuals from throughout the British Isles.

"There are a wide range of opinions on how the language should be supported in the future. Whilst Jim feels threatened by engagement, we do not."

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