Belfast Telegraph

Gerry Adams backs open letter's call for Irish Language Act

Gerry Adams
Gerry Adams
Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw
Suzanne Breen

By Suzanne Breen

Former Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams has welcomed an open letter to the British and Irish Governments from more than 200 prominent figures in sport, music, politics and academia calling for an Irish Language Act.

But the DUP said that the focus in Northern Ireland should be on building consensus to restore devolution rather than "promoting a narrow agenda and emphasising red lines".

The letter, published in yesterday's Irish News, cited commitments to introduce Irish language legislation from London and Dublin in the Good Friday and St Andrews agreements.

Penned by campaign group An Dream Dearg, the signatories include singer-songwriter Damien Dempsey, actor John Connors and Belfast boxers Michael Conlan and Paddy Barnes.

Welcoming the letter in the Dail yesterday, Mr Adams said: "Today, citizens from the worlds of sport, education, trade unions, politics and academia signed an open letter to An Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, and the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, calling for the implementation of the commitment on An Acht Gaeilge.

"The British Government specifically committed in the Good Friday Agreement to 'take resolute action to promote the language; facilitate and encourage the use of the language in speech and writing in public and private life'.

"In the St Andrews Agreement, the British Government committed to introducing an Irish Language Act. This open letter is a significant reminder there is a clear public desire for this commitment to be delivered as part of the current negotiations."

But DUP MP Gavin Robinson said there were more pressing issues for the community.

"People across Northern Ireland have been clear about their desire to see devolution restored," he said.

"The public want to see decisions taken on schools and hospitals and on the issues which impact upon everyone in our society. Issues of language and culture are important, but we should be focused on building consensus rather than promoting a narrow agenda and emphasising red lines."

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw said: "Alliance fully supports an Irish Language Act ... to be delivered through restoration of the institutions. We are focused on delivering this and are working towards building a consensus around this and many other issues through the talks process, making it essential we don't waste this opportunity to find a lasting solution."

Expressing his party's support, SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said: "We believe this should be done. That is why we proposed a temporary suspension of the petition of concern so that it can be legislated for through the Assembly. If that fails, the SDLP have been clear that Westminster must legislate for an Irish Language Act.

"However, the most important issue right now is getting a government up and running that meets the needs of all our people here."

The TUV repeated its opposition to an Irish Language Act. A party spokesman said: "Far from addressing an issue involving discrimination and inequality, an Irish Language Act would actually create such problems. There would be discrimination against non-Irish speakers in employment, particularly in the legal profession and the Civil Service. It would also lead to alienation of the unionist community."

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