Belfast Telegraph

SF must be conscious of unionist feeling on Irish language act: Ahern

By David Young, PA

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has poured cold water on Sinn Fein demands for a standalone Irish Language Act - warning they have to be conscious of the feelings of unionists.

"If anybody seriously believes that you're going to convince the loyalist people in the Shankill that they should have Irish signs, they'll be waiting," he told RTE's Claire Byrne Live last night.

Mr Ahern said the act "can't be seen as a victory and we're going to shove it down their (unionists') throats".

"I think that the message has been received so in fairness to Sinn Fein, they have seemed to receive that," he said.

"But it has to be seen and understood, otherwise loyalists and unionists are going to get at Arlene, which makes her position untenable."

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Sinn Fein mobilised its base in the Irish Republic to garner support for a letter from high-profile members of civic society urging the Taoiseach to push for law changes in Northern Ireland.

The letter from 100 prominent people in fields such as sport, law and the arts calls on Leo Varadkar to ensure citizens north of the border have the same rights as those in his jurisdiction. A similar public letter was sent to the Taoiseach before Christmas.

The latest letter - signed by musicians Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard and Frances Black - presses Mr Varadkar to lobby for legislation for Irish language speakers and same-sex marriage in Northern Ireland.

An email obtained by the Press Association indicates Sinn Fein was involved in an organised effort to find individuals willing to sign the letter.

The email sent last week by a senior party officer in the Irish Republic to council leaders there read: "We are seeking support from public figures at local and national level in the areas of the arts, culture, legal, business, community etc and so far have some 70 signatories including Christy Moore, Damien Dempsey, Glen Hansard and Frances Black.

"But there are also many more signatories without a national profile but who are well known in communities for the work that they do. And this is where you come in ... We are looking for your help to get this up to 100 by the end of the day.

"Please get in touch with suggested names as well as a link person who will contact them."

A Sinn Fein spokesman confirmed the party aided the endeavour. "We were asked to assist by the organisers of this initiative in garnering support for a civic lobby in support of the rights-based agenda in the north," he said. "We are happy to do so, to give voice to the frustrations felt throughout Irish civic society at the denial of basic rights in the north."

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