No more false dawns over Irish language act, says Michelle O’Neill

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill has said there must be no more “false dawns” over an Irish Language Act and insisted the legislation should be brought forward in the current Assembly term.

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 4:55 pm

During Executive Office questions at Stormont, Ms O’Neill also insisted her party was committed to power-sharing when she was asked if Sinn Fein might refuse to re-nominate a deputy first minister unless the legislation was progressed.

The New Decade New Approach deal in 2020 committed Northern Ireland’s political parties to establish an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, which would put in place provision for services in Irish and Ulster-Scots.

However, over a year on there has been no movement on commitments.

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Deputy First Minister, Michelle O'Neill

With the new DUP leader Edwin Poots expected to announce his ministerial team soon, there has been speculation Sinn Fein might use the nomination procedure to seek assurances over protection for Irish language speakers.

The process of re-nominating first and deputy first ministers will be triggered once Arlene Foster resigns.

Asked about that issue on Tuesday, Mr Poots said: “Certainly I have received no ultimatums nor do I expect to receive an ultimatum.”

At Stormont, Ms O’Neill said: “I think as we step our way out of the shadow of Covid-19 we now need to see delivery on the New Decade, New Approach political deal which provides us all for the potential of a new beginning in proper inclusive power-sharing government.

“The commitment to an Irish Language Act was a key component of the NDNA deal and that is why we need to see delivery of the language and culture pieces of legislation within this Assembly mandate.

“Failure to honour these commitments is just not a sustainable position. There can be no stepping back on the commitments that were made and there can be no more false dawns.”

Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin said: “You will be aware that just last week the Irish language community once again took to the outside of this building to protest, such is their frustration at the lack of implementation that was agreed.”

O’Neill responded: “We are running out of time. There is a short window left in the mandate so it is important that we get on with delivery of the legislation and the public get what they expect.”

TUV leader Jim Allister asked if Sinn Fein intended to “hold the DUP hostage” by refusing to ratify to re-nominate a deputy first minister until they received an Irish Language Act.

Ms O’Neill said: “I have no desire to hold anyone to hostage. I have a desire to make politics work and to have the political commitments that were agreed upon delivered. Nobody has anything to fear from an Irish Language Act.”

Mr Allister added: “Simple question; will Sinn Fein nominate a deputy first minister if the DUP does not meet your terms?”

O’Neill: “It is a matter for the DUP who they decide to put forward. I am committed to power sharing, I hope that others are committed to power sharing.”

Ahead of what was likely to be her last appearance in the Assembly for Executive Office questions, former DUP leader Arlene Foster walked into the chamber alongside Ms O’Neill.

It was a proactive decision by the leaders to walk into Stormont’s devolved legislature together.