Belfast Telegraph

Arlene Foster: We want to respect and better understand the Irish language

DUP leader Arlene Foster has promised to better understand the Irish language as she announced a series of meetings with supporters of the tongue.

Mrs Foster pledged to engage with those lacking party political baggage or demands.

An Irish language act is a key demand of Sinn Fein in exchange for returning to devolved government at Stormont.

Mrs Foster said: "We do want to respect and indeed better understand the language and culture which we are not a part of and, to that end, over the next short period of time, I do intend to listen and to engage with those from the Gaelic/Irish background, those without party political baggage or indeed demands, people who genuinely love the Irish language and don't want to use it as a political weapon.

"So I very much look forward to that engagement over the next short period of time."

In February, the former Stormont First Minister said more people spoke Polish than Irish in Northern Ireland and declared the party would never agree to an act protecting it.

Sinn Fein President Gerry Adams has said a deal to restore powersharing is being held up by disagreement over "mainly rights-based issues" such as language.

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On Wednesday, Mrs Foster said: "In terms of the Irish language, we firmly believe that it needs to be seen in the context of the whole cultural respect and affirmation of identity in Northern Ireland.

"We do recognise that there are people who love the language, who want to speak the language and be facilitated in that respect, but we also say that in respect of Ulster Scots and Orange and British identity that there needs to be respect held for those cultures as well.

"So it is about not just one side or the other, it is about mutual respect for everybody and that is the way in which we are approaching these negotiations; to have that affirmation of identity not just for one section of the community, but for everyone who lives in Northern Ireland and we think that is a very positive way forward."

DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said the party's MEP Diane Dodds had joined Irish language activist Linda Ervine recently speaking to people in mainly-loyalist east Belfast about the issue.

He said: "It is important that kind of engagement takes place, we have no difficulty with that whatsoever."

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