Belfast Telegraph

Belfast council Irish Language Act debate annoys DUP

Belfast councillor Matthew Collins during an Irish Language Act protest
Belfast councillor Matthew Collins during an Irish Language Act protest

By Rebecca Black

The DUP has branded a debate on an Irish Language Act to be proposed at Belfast City Council tonight as needlessly divisive.

The motion from People Before Profit's Matthew Collins, calls for the council to support the introduction of an Act.

Disagreement between the DUP and Sinn Fein over an Act was a key reason for the collapse of the recent talks to resurrect power-sharing at Stormont.

The motion from Mr Collins claims an Irish Language Act is "crucial in delivering fair and proper treatment for the Irish language community" and urges councillors to voice their support for the introduction of such legislation.

The motion, which has been seconded by Green Party councillor Georgina Milne, has been slammed by the DUP.

Its City Hall group leader Lee Reynolds said the issue was one that the council had no power over.

The full text of the motion notes the "positive revival of the Irish language in Belfast over the past number of decades".

"Today, the city of Belfast has a historically large concentration of Irish speakers, which includes a growing number of Irish-medium schools, providing for thousands of pupils and thousands more residents who speak the Irish language on a daily basis," it reads.

"The council also recognises the impressive grassroots movement that has developed in recent years calling for an Irish Language Act in order to safeguard and strengthen rights for the Irish language community, a call that has received widespread political support.

"The council believes that such a move is crucial in delivering fair and proper treatment for the Irish language community and supports the introduction of an Irish Language Act."

Mr Reynolds said: "The DUP will be voting against the motion. In the absence of the Assembly some have been trying to make the council the alternative debating chamber. They are consistently taking it into areas that it has no powers over and dragging the mood and relationships in the council in a negative direction.

"While different parties will no doubt back it, they are being disingenuous. They say they want one, but can't agree on what they want in one.

"Even then it wouldn't be enough for some Irish language groups and spokespeople.

"Meanwhile, everyone suffers in the absence of a working Executive as some would prefer to play gesture politics than govern."

The Assembly has not sat for more than a year after the then Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness collapsed the institutions by resigning over the DUP's handling of the Renewable Heat Incentive scandal.

Talks to revive Stormont have been ongoing over the last year, but have failed to reach agreement.

A leaked draft of a purported deal between the DUP and Sinn Fein in the most recent negotiations included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Culture and Diversity Act. This prompted a unionist outcry, with the Orange Order and TUV among others claiming the plan was not acceptable.

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