Alan Chambers MLA: ‘Alliance and the Greens stood with Adams before SF gave any details on Irish language act’

The Green Party and Alliance Party engage in naive politics for a photo opportunity with Gerry Adams. Paula Bradshaw MLA (Alliance), centre, and Steven Agnew MLA (Green Party), second from left, with others including Nicola Mallon MLA (SDLP), left, Gerry Carroll MLA (People Before Profit), third from left, and Gerry Adams TD (Sinn Fein), second from right, at the MAC theatre in Belfast, all demanding a standalone Irish language act.

Picture: Philip Magowan/PressEye
The Green Party and Alliance Party engage in naive politics for a photo opportunity with Gerry Adams. Paula Bradshaw MLA (Alliance), centre, and Steven Agnew MLA (Green Party), second from left, with others including Nicola Mallon MLA (SDLP), left, Gerry Carroll MLA (People Before Profit), third from left, and Gerry Adams TD (Sinn Fein), second from right, at the MAC theatre in Belfast, all demanding a standalone Irish language act. Picture: Philip Magowan/PressEye

There has been much talk around the introduction of a stand alone Irish language act (ILA) being a major Sinn Fein red line barrier to the return of a working Stormont executive and assembly.

Every day I am seeing more examples of the hurt and pain being caused by the absence of government ministers, either devolved or direct rule, to many individuals and organisations but especially to the health and well being of the public and the education of our children.

The Ulster Unionist Party is totally opposed to a standalone ILA on the basis that we simply don’t need one.

This opposition to an act is not an attack on the Irish language that as part of our culture belongs to everyone, and should be funded and encouraged in a proportionate way.

It was legislated for in the Belfast Agreement and those obligations have been fulfilled. It is for other parties to explain their support for later agreements which included an Irish language act.
We have actually not seen a document that spells out what an ILA means or what the implications for the general public would be.

At a meeting I attended with Sinn Fein a few days ago they referenced a paper they produced some years ago to the executive as being more or less their current template.

This document was, I understand, rejected by the Alliance members of the executive at that time.

However the absence of any documentation, and the fact that the previously rejected paper now seems to be the Sinn Fein basis for an ILA, I was somewhat surprised to see representatives of both the Green Party and the Alliance Party photographed recently alongside Gerry Adams of Sinn Fein smiling as they held aloft banners featuring a thumbs up to an ILA.

My surprise was compounded by the fact that this unseen ILA is a red line to a return of an executive.

I thought that both the Green Party and the Alliance Party were keen, along with my own party, to see devolution returned and found it difficult to understand why they would be supporting an unseen piece of Sinn Fein documentation that is being used to make the return of an executive more difficult to achieve.

Common sense seemed to return to both these centralist parties a few days later when they started to backtrack and, I suspect, probably now hope that the thumbs up photograph would just go away.

It was very naive politics just for a photo opportunity with Mr Adams.

There has been speculation that some sort of fudged culture and language act will be agreed between Sinn Fein and the DUP with the bitter pill of an ILA sweetened by a pot of gold offered for the promotion of Ulster Scots.

On a personal level I cannot see how such a pot of gold, no matter how generous could even start to compensate for a highly, and unfortunately, politicised ILA that may indeed encourage reverse discrimination in civil service employment or place more bureaucratic demands on small businesses with threats of legal action and punitive fines for non compliance.

Owners of small businesses should be under no illusions that such an act will have financial implications for them and could indeed discourage out of state investors with a finely balanced business case from coming to Northern Ireland. We should not be doing anything that makes inward investment less attractive.

I will continue to enjoy my Ulster Scots heritage and do not need or seek a bribe to do so.

I think this would be a position shared by many of my kith and kin.

In the meantime I will also continue to support and encourage those who wish to learn to speak the Irish language for cultural enhancement or any other purpose.

Alan Chambers, UUP MLA, North Down, Stormont

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