DUP education minister Paul Givan indicates that if Irish speakers feel respected they are less likely to push for a united Ireland

Paul Givan has suggested that showing respect to Irish speakers could undermine pressure for Irish unity.
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The former DUP First Minister, now the education minister, made the comment on the BBC Radio Ulster Nolan Show this morning.

It followed on from remarks he had made a day earlier about the connections between Protestantism and the Irish language.

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He had said on Wednesday: “When you look at the history of the Irish language it was Presbyterians that came from Scotland that kept the language alive,and I think it's important that we remember that the language isn't unique to one particular community in Northern Ireland – it does have value right across our community.

Former First Minister Paul Givan, pictured in 2021Former First Minister Paul Givan, pictured in 2021
Former First Minister Paul Givan, pictured in 2021

"If we think even the townlands and the names of our places have a steeped history in the Irish language.

"So I think it's important that politically we say that the Irish language should not be something that's politicised, that it's something that I believe can be a shared language for everybody in Northern Ireland.”

He then made similar comments on Mr Nolan's Radio Ulster morning show today, saying he said he agrees with DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson’s view of how Northern Ireland’s place can be “secured for the future”.

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“That is not going to be achieved through a very crude demographic headcount of us and them based on religious identity – that is not how you’re going to do it... therefore you have to win hearts and minds."

He also said: "Why would somebody want to change if they feel their cultural identity is respected in the current status quo?"

He added that this apparent pivot by the DUP away from past aversion to the language “isn’t something that is cynical around electoral calculations”, but that the tack he was taking “is the right thing to do”.

Asked by Mr Nolan: "Are you going to try and grow Irish language in Northern Ireland?" Mr Givan replied:

"I'll look at every proposal that comes to me…

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"Where there's a clear evidence of enrolment figures and they need, then I think it is again it has to speak into what I said yesterday: that where the language and the Irish medium sector can grow it should grow and that has to be done on a fair and equitable basis.”


The DUP's recent history with the Irish language is heavily informed by Sinn Fein's three-year refusal to re-establish devolved government, beginning in January 2017, when it walked out of office ostensibly because of the RHI debacle.

But whilst Sinn Fein did not make it explicit, it is widely understood that the party would have been willing to return if the DUP would grant it an Irish language act (the desired contents of which were also never made explicit).

In February 2017 DUP leader Arlene Foster said of this demand that "if you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back and looking for more".

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She also said that month: “I will never accede to an Irish language act.”

Six months later, she said "we have nothing to fear from the Irish language, nor is it any threat to the Union," but added that "what we cannot and will not do is simply agree to one-sided demands".Then in January 2020, she unveiled the New Decade, New Approach deal which effectively did agree to an Irish language act.

Specifically, it allowed for an Irish Language Commissioner "to recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland", as well as giving the language official status.

Alongside this would be another commissioner "to enhance and develop the language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots / Ulster British tradition", plus official recognition of Ulster Scots too.

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This was then enshrined in law by MPs at Westminster in the form of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Act 2022, whilst the NI Assembly was once again inoperative (this time due to a DUP walkout over the terms of Brexit).

Despite all this, in 2021 a senior DUP figure – speaking to the News Letter under condition of anonymity – continued to insist “an Irish language act hasn’t been agreed... an Irish language act was never signed up to".