‘No need’ for Irish language Act at this time, says UUP

Doug Beattie, Ulster Unionist MLA

Doug Beattie, Ulster Unionist MLA

There should be no decision made on an Irish Language Act until a body set up to examine cultural issues has completed its work.

That was the call from the Ulster Unionist Party yesterday, as Sinn Fein’s demand for the implementation of an Irish Language Act continues to be high on the agenda at the talks aimed at restoring Stormont.

UUP MLA Tom Elliot said there was currently “no need” for an Irish Language Act as the Commission on Flags, Identity, Culture and Tradition is examining the issue.

The commission, set up under the Stormont House Agreement, has been tasked with coming up with a series of proposals on contentious issues.

Mr Elliot said: “The commission must be allowed to complete its work. It has the potential to resolve these issues in a much broader way than the current round of talks at Stormont.”

The panel is due to publish an interim report this month, with a full report scheduled for the end of the year.

Ulster Unionist MLA Doug Beattie, who sits on the 15-strong panel, said the commission had been established at the cost of hundreds of thousands of pounds of taxpayers money.

He told the News Letter: “The commission was set up by the DUP and Sinn Fein, and launched by Arlene Foster and Martin McGuinness with some gusto.

“Its job is to look at cultural issues, and there is a huge sphere within that which focuses on the Irish language and Ulster Scots.

“There has been a large body of work going on for the past nine months and we have another nine months to go.

“Who is to say that the committee will not recommend an Irish Language Act, or a broader Languages Act incorporating other traditions?”

Mr Beattie suggested there should be heads of agreement stating that the parties will agree to “thrash out the findings of the commission”.

When it launched last summer, then First Minister Arlene Foster said: “The commission presents a unique opportunity to take a fresh approach to dealing with the complexities of flags, identity, culture and traditions.”

Former deputy first minister Martin McGuinness said at the time: “We must develop a society which is open, tolerant and mutually respectful.

“This commission will contribute to this and pave the way for greater awareness and understanding of differing cultural identities.”