Discussions between DUP leader Arlene Foster and several Irish language groups have been hailed as “very worthwhile and useful”.
The former first minister met Irish language enthusiasts at Stormont yesterday as part of her pledge to reach out to those who speak the language.
It came the day after Mrs Foster was left feeling “uplifted” and said thank you in Irish after meeting students in a Co Down school.
An Irish language act is one of the major stalemates in crisis talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein in a bid to restore the power-sharing institutions.
Mrs Foster, along with DUP MLAs Edwin Poots and Christopher Stalford, met a delegation of Irish language groups at Parliament Buildings yesterday.
The meeting, hosted by Pobal, the independent advocacy group for the language, included representatives from An tÁisaonad (based at St Mary’s University College on the Falls Road), An Droichead (which promotes the language in south and east Belfast), and Armagh-based organisation Cairde Teo.
Speaking after the meeting, Pobal director Janet Muller told the News Letter the discussions were “very worthwhile”.
She added: “It was a very useful meeting and there was positive engagement. We had a long discussion and exchange of views on the best way forward.
“We were also very clear in saying that the Irish language is something that belongs to everyone on this island. An Irish language act would take the sting out of it and stop it being a contentious issue.”
Encouraging other Irish language groups to get in touch with Mrs Foster, Mrs Muller added: “It was a very useful exercise and we will be happy to hold further meetings with the DUP.”
A delegation from Irish language group Conradh na Gaeilge also met with Mrs Foster yesterday.
Dr Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge said: “Today’s meeting was a useful one, one in which we put across our proposals for an Irish language act and their associated costs as is laid out in the discussion document.
“I believe we got a good hearing and we are hoping that the DUP will support an Irish language act after contemplating what we discussed with them today.”
In February, Mrs Foster said more people spoke Polish than Irish in Northern Ireland and declared the party would never agree to an act protecting the language, a key Sinn Fein aim in negotiations to restore power-sharing.
But during her visit to Our Lady’s Grammar School in Newry on Wednesday – where she met Irish students and teachers – the DUP leader clarified: “It had become very much a political demand and as we talked about Irish, its culture and affirmation of identity in the talks, I felt that it would be good to step back from the Irish language as a political demand and to actually listen to people who loved the language and wanted to use it in their every day lives.
“That is what I am trying to do. I am on a journey of doing that. I have met with some individuals already around why they believe Irish is so important to them.”