Belfast Telegraph

DUP olive branch to nationalists on Irish language

Arlene Foster acknowledges the audience at conference
Arlene Foster acknowledges the audience at conference
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Arlene Foster has signalled that the DUP is willing to legislate for the Irish language as she called on Sinn Fein to break the political deadlock at Stormont.

Addressing her party conference in Belfast, Mrs Foster said her party was ready for any general election, which she predicted would shape the future of Northern Ireland for generations.

The DUP also said the Prime Minister must renegotiate his Brexit deal with Brussels if he wants her party's support.

Mrs Foster told delegates on Saturday that she was willing to "seek accommodation and legislate in a balanced way for language and culture, including for the Irish language" to restore power-sharing.

"We recognise there are many in Northern Ireland who love the Irish language and for whom it is an intrinsic part of who they are," she said.

"So, my offer stands, if we can find a way to craft language and culture laws that facilitates those who speak the language, but does not appropriately infringe on or threaten others, the DUP will not be found wanting."

Mrs Foster said she wanted a "fair deal" with "no winners or losers" but "everyone putting their best foot forward to provide a brighter future for all".

Unionism must be "inclusive, welcoming and embracing to all", she said. "It should permit individuals to express the cultural life they choose.

"Whilst many focus on Ulster-Scots and unionism, let me be clear, it is not incompatible to be an Irish language speaker and a unionist - indeed there might even be one or two here today."

Mrs Foster said her party wanted to "rekindle a generosity of spirit that has been missing for some time". She said diversity and difference must be met with "a spirit of respect and understanding for the other point of view".

Despite her olive branch to nationalists, Mrs Foster accused Sinn Fein of shirking its political duties. "Whether in local council chambers, London or Brussels, it is the DUP that is at the centre of the debate," she said.

On Brexit, she said her party wanted a deal which didn't leave Northern Ireland behind. Mrs Foster repeated that without change, the party will not vote for the Johnson agreement.

"We have been clear and honest with the Government throughout this process and we expect the same in return. The customs and consent arrangements must be revisited and a one nation approach adopted.

"Dublin and Brussels belatedly reopened Mrs May's deal having rigidly refused to do so. Having told us it could not be renegotiated, it was, and I encourage the Prime Minister to do the same again."

Mrs Foster said the consent mechanism outlined in Mr Johnson's deal - with a simple majority of MLAs required to determine post-Brexit arrangements - was unacceptable.

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