Belfast Telegraph

Pressure is on SF to act in interests of all

Editor's Viewpoint

The Irish language is at the heart of the present paralysis at Stormont. Withdrawal of funding for a scholarship scheme for Irish students was one of the reasons given by the late Martin McGuinness for resigning and effectively toppling the power-sharing administration.

Sinn Fein has said the introduction of an Irish Language Act is a red line demand if it is to go back to Stormont.

It is the party's position that such an Act was one of the measures contained in the St Andrews Agreement, but former First Minister Peter Robinson says Sinn Fein was hoodwinked on the issue by the Blair government.

In his analysis of the talks at St Andrews, Mr Robinson, the ultimate fly on the wall, said there was no commitment in the final agreement to implement an Irish Language Act and the government of the day assured the DUP that the matter would be devolved and it would be up to the parties at Stormont to decide if legislation would be introduced.

If his account is accurate - and there is no evidence to suggest otherwise - it was a classic smoke and mirrors act of diplomatic deception by the government.

It weakens Sinn Fein's demand for implementation of the Act before devolution is restored. Its case is built on sand. But that does not mean that an Act cannot be implemented with the agreement of the other parties at Stormont. And, as Mr Robinson argues, there is no reason why it cannot sit alongside legislation on Ulster-Scots culture.

The desire of those who love either culture to give it legislative standing and protection is legitimate, and the introduction of such legislation would be a clear signal of mutual respect and understanding.

Mr Robinson's argument that Sinn Fein's demands amount to giving Irish supremacy over any other culture is difficult to deny, as is his claim that, by so doing, Sinn Fein is not showing respect or practising equality - a complaint republicans have levelled at the DUP in the recent past.

There is no doubt that Sinn Fein found itself wrong-footed by the result of the Westminster general election and the DUP's subsequent position at the heart of government.

With the DUP having gained a £1.5bn deal from the Tories, Sinn Fein can hardly turn down the chance to help spend that money in a new Executive. Can it act in the interests of all as the DUP did in its negotiations with Theresa May, and get back into Stormont?

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