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Arlene Foster: It's a fair and balanced accord that will help us all to move forward

DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks to the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire
DUP leader Arlene Foster speaks to the media in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings, Stormont. Credit: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Arlene Foster

At the last election the major message on the doorsteps was frustration at the lack of an Assembly. The people wanted a fair and balanced deal. They wanted progress.

This agreement delivers progress in a balanced way. It enables us to re-establish an Executive to deal with the waiting lists in our hospitals and ensure that local ministers make local decisions.

I understand some people will be frustrated by the establishment of an Irish Language Commissioner, but it is part of an overarching cultural deal.

Before anyone rushes to judgment, they should consider that this commissioner will have a much more limited role than that which the Irish language lobby would have liked.

This commissioner will facilitate Irish language speakers but will not have the power to impose Irish upon those of us who do not speak the language.

The law will require any standards drawn up by the commissioner to be submitted to the First and Deputy First Minister for approval.

Fundamental for us was that one identity was not elevated above another.

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The delivery of a Commissioner for the Ulster British identity enables better recognition for those of us who are British - especially in councils in the West.

Our British identity is much more than flags, bonfires and parades. Huge work needs done here.

This new Ulster British Commissioner is key to that.

The Castlereagh Foundation which is established through this deal will also help create a civic voice for those of us who are British which can provide research and educational material.

This is a long-term strategic win.

The establishment of a Cultural and Community Fund is about recognising and supporting the halls, bands and heritage which form the fabric of many of our communities.

For too long they have been aided by start-stop schemes. This will be strategic.

Another win is the establishment of a Commissioner for Veterans and the implementation of the Military Covenant. For too long our soldiers and veterans have been second class to their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It is right that the Executive supports the provision of care and services for young people who serve in the Armed Forces.

Whilst several parties wanted to get rid of the petition of concern for minorities, we have ensured this key protection is retained.

We have also ensured that all government buildings and courts are aligned with the rest of the UK when it comes to flying the Union flag.

This will increase the number of days that the flag flies and brings us into line with Great Britain.

Whilst there will be scaremongering, those people should be asked for their achievable alternative way forward. English remains the language of Northern Ireland.

No one will be forced to learn Irish.

No one will be blocked from getting a job in the Civil Service because they don't have Irish.

There will be no positive discrimination in favour of Irish speakers.

This isn't a perfect deal but it is a fair and balanced deal to allow us to move forward and focus on the issues which matter to most people, such as their schools and hospitals.

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