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Nothing new in DUP Irish language offer and they knew we'd rejected it, says Michelle O'Neill

Sinn Fein's Michelle O'Neill has said Arlene Foster knew her party's offer of the immediate restoration of the Executive alongside setting out a fixed time frame for an Irish language act would be rejected before it was made it.

Speaking at a Friday morning press conference at the party's Falls Road offices in west Belfast, Mrs O'Neill said there was nothing new in the offer and the same proposal had been made an earlier stage of discussions, which was dismissed.

"It was an offer which they knew would be rejected, and it certainly wasn't a new offer," said the MLA.

She said one positive from the proposal was the assertion from the DUP leader that the party "had nothing to fear from the Irish language" and that it wasn't a threat to the union.

The Sinn Fein leader was also questioned about the demand for an Irish language act when a relatively low number of her party's representatives in Northern Ireland were fluent Irish speakers.

Mrs O'Neill said it was not a demand for Sinn Fein but a "a demand for all society" and asserted that her party was pursuing a broader rights-based agenda.

She re-stated her party's commitment to restoring a devolved government.

"The public want local institutions, they want local ministers to be held to account," she added.

In her proposal on Thursday night, DUP leader Arlene Foster described her approach as a "common sense solution" and that new talks would be a "waste of time unless there is some new thinking".

The decision by Sinn Fein to reject Arlene Foster's proposal was criticised by Fianna Fail, Sinn Fein's electoral rival in the Republic.

"In our view, the Executive should never have been collapsed. Given the enormous challenge of Brexit and the other challenges facing the working people of Northern Ireland, the fact that there is still no Executive after eight months is disgraceful," said the party's leader Micheal Martin.

He added that while Fianna Fail supports the Irish language act, it does not believe that it should be used as a "political pawn".

Fianna Fail do not run candidates in Northern Ireland, but leader Mr Martin has previously expressed a wish for his party to put forward candidates in the 2019 council elections.

Earlier this year Mr Martin criticised Sinn Fein for refusing to take its seats in Westminster following the British General Election.

In response to this, Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams described Martin as a "hurler on the ditch" and said "if they gave out all-Ireland medals for making zero effort on matters of importance to northern citizens, Micheál Martin would be an All Star every year".

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