SF ventures into Ulster-Scots as motion to limit Irish is defeated
Senior Sinn Fein figure Gerry Kelly yesterday made a personal pitch for cultural diversity - by addressing Assembly members in Ulster-Scots.
To a rather flat reception, the Junior Minister then switched to Irish before Sinn Fein, SDLP and Alliance MLAs combined to defeat an Ulster Unionist motion attempting to limit use of the Irish Language.
Sinn Fein and SDLP MLAs had lodged the first 'petition of concern' since the return of devolution, requiring Ulster Unionist David McNarry's motion to have a majority on both sides of the House.
But in the end, with support from Alliance, the cross-community vote was not required and the motion - critical of the new Irish language legislation - was defeated by 44 votes to 46.
Mr McNarry revealed he had devised his motion after receiving a written reply from Education Minister Caitriona Ruane half written in Irish.
He had written back, telling Ms Ruane he had found her letter " intimidating, disrespectful and off-putting" but had yet to receive even an acknowledgement.
Acknowledging MLAs and Ministers had the right to speak in the language of their choice, Mr McNarry said the same right did not apply to writing.
Whatever decision had been made about an Irish Language Act at the St Andrews talks a year ago, it had proved "profoundly unsettling for Unionists with potentially very damaging implications for community relations and relations in the Assembly," he said.
"In this place, even without an act, Unionists are experiencing adverse impacts and today we are plainly saying we are having no more of it."
But Sinn Féin party whip Carál Ní Chuilín thanked Mr McNarry for creating more Irish language speakers and allowing enthusiasts to win the argument over language rights.
"The determination of unionist politicians to block any recognition of the Irish Language is a misguided and macho demonstration of anti-Irish bigotry," the North Belfast MLA said.
"It's almost as if unionism has decided to define itself by how anti-Irish it is - pathetic."
He insisted that the Irish language community wanted equal treatment with the Welsh language community, in rights that were part of the Good Friday Agreement, which the UUP supported.
"Where costs are incurred, the bottom line has to be that Irish speakers are also taxpayers and have been paying towards their exclusion for decades," he said.
The DUP's Nelson McCausland said the abrasiveness from the Irish language lobby had to go so the language can become "part of our cultural wealth" .
The SDLP's Dominic Bradley said the message should be that the Assembly is open to diversity "not that we are narrow-minded bigots who cannot share our own cultural traditions".
The Alliance Party's Stephen Farry asked: "Does a knock- about over an issue regarding symbols really add to the credit of this Assembly? I think not."