The DUP has declined to elaborate on remarks made by a senior party member regarding a proposed culture act offering legislative protection for Irish and Ulster Scots.
Figures within the party, including Gregory Campbell and former leader Peter Robinson, had previously indicated they would be willing to accept some form hybrid culture act – but not a standalone Irish language act, as has been demanded by Sinn Fein.
However, DUP MP Sammy Wilson MP told the News Letter on Tuesday that such a concession was no longer being explored.
He said: “This idea of a culture act or whatever you want to call it has been eliminated as an option.
“Sinn Fein has already made it clear that they will accept nothing less than a standalone act. So why would we offer them something they have already publicly rejected?”
The News Letter yesterday asked the DUP, through its press office, to elaborate on Mr Wilson’s remarks.
However, no comment was forthcoming from the party.
Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey indicated that – if Mr Wilson’s assertion proved to be correct – he would welcome the move.
The House of Lords peer said yesterday: “There had been a concern that the DUP may agree to an Irish language act in return for some form of protection for Ulster Scots.
“I would be totally opposed to that kind of trade off, as the two things are just not equivalent.
“While I accept there are wider cultural issues outstanding, including parades, they cannot be mixed in with Gerry Adams’ demand for an Irish language act.
“Unionists cannot allow themselves to be bullied by Sinn Fein and their incessant demands.”
Meanwhile, Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge has expressed “disappointment” at comments made by leading reconciliation activist Trevor Ringland.
The former British and Irish Lions rugby player claimed this week that republicans have “poisoned attitudes” towards the Irish language by using it as a red line to prevent the restoration of devolution.
Speaking to the News Letter on Monday, Mr Ringland urged Sinn Fein to “back off” the issue in a bid to de-politicise the language and defuse tensions.
He added: “Nationalists need to realise that anything Sinn Fein touches tends to alienate vast sections of society.
“The tragic thing is that attitudes were becoming more and more relaxed towards Irish, but unfortunately the whole issue has become very divisive again due to Sinn Fein’s approach.”
Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin from Conradh na Gaeilge said Mr Ringland’s remarks “do not reflect the broad, cross-party support for protective legislation for the Irish language”.
He added that Mr Ringland’s assertion that Irish was doing well prior to the collapse of the Assembly “doesn’t stand up to scrutiny”.
Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin said: “Ten years of continuous power sharing didn’t lead to any progress on rights for Irish speakers.”
Regarding Mr Ringland’s suggestion that Irish language groups should tell Sinn Fein to “back off”, Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin said his organisation would continue to seek support “from all political parties”.