Irish language group puts pressure on Smith as DUP vow they won't give in to 'unreasonable demands'
Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge turned up the pressure for an Irish Language Act after meeting Secretary of State Julian Smith at Hillsborough Castle.
The Sunday afternoon rendezvous was arranged after a proposed meeting last week was cancelled at short notice by Mr Smith.
Irish language issues have been at the heart of the current inter-party negotiations aimed at restoring a devolved government to Northern Ireland.
Speaking after the meeting with Mr Smith, Conradh na Gaeilge spokesman Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh said they had reminded Mr Smith of his obligations under the St Andrews’ Agreement — which he said had promised “resolute action” for the Irish language.
“Today we reminded Secretary of State Smith of his duties, as one of those co-guarantors, to ensure full implementation of those commitments,” Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said.
“This new legislation must be drafted, as the St Andrews’ Agreement compels, from the language legislation in Wales and in the south.
“Those Acts are independent from any other pieces of legislation. They facilitate rights and respect. They secure services and visibility.
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“They recognise their indigenous language as an official language. They provide the security of a commissioner to protect and promote the language.
“That is what the two governments and the parties must deliver with an Irish Language Act. Speakers of Irish, be they speakers using the language in their home, in their schools or in the community, can no longer be treated as second class citizens.”
But senior DUP MP Gregory Campbell MP said that the DUP would not be stampeded in to signing up to an agreement just to meet the January 13 talks deadline.
“Whether it is one party (SF) making unacceptable demands or other parties standing side by side to accept that the unreasonable demand is met, will make no difference to us,” the East Londonderry MP said.
“Where the Irish language has a perfectly acceptable place in Northern Ireland society and is resourced appropriately, as it already is, there will not be a problem or opposition from the DUP or wider unionism.”
But he added: “Where there is an unacceptable and unreasonable demand to elevate it above all other minority languages, whether it is SF, other parties or HM Government saying we will have to yield on this issue as it is preventing devolution returning, we will not do so.”
Sinn Fein's deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said on Friday that "clearly" there would be an Irish Language Act in any deal to restore the Executive, one of the major sticking points in previous negotiations.
"Clearly there will be an Irish Language Act as part of a deal, but what we need to see is a package of measures that allows public confidence to be generated again in our ability to deliver good politics," Ms O'Neill said.
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