There is “considerable merit” in an inclusive cultural Act for Northern Ireland as opposed to a stand-alone Irish Language Act, a DUP MLA has claimed.
The pronouncement comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster said she wanted to engage with Gaelic speakers who lack party political baggage.
The move came as a DUP/Sinn Fein tussle over the republican party’s demand for an Irish Language Act remains one of the main obstacles in the way of a deal to restore powersharing.
Mrs Foster’s remarks on Wednesday have been interpreted by some as a shift in position, given that earlier this year she vowed that an Irish Language Act would never come into being on her watch.
Former Culture Minister Nelson McCausland yesterday told the News Letter that an inclusive cultural Act “could well be the way forward”.
He added: “It would recognise that there is more than one indigenous minority language in Northern Ireland and more than one cultural tradition.”
Mr McCausland believes a culture Act could help to rectify what he described as “the cultural wrongs imposed on Northern Ireland”.
He added: “The Belfast Agreement embedded preferential treatment for the Irish language to the neglect of other cultural traditions and enshrined that inequality in law.
“Ulster-Scots language and culture, Orange culture and Ulster-British culture are part of our cultural wealth, as is the Irish language, and all should be respected.
“Unfortunately Sinn Fein have been demanding a stand-alone Irish Language Act that takes Irish Gaelic culture out of that diversity and places it above the other cultural traditions.”
Mr McCausland felt the current impasse at Stormont could be resolved by “recognising that the issue of cultural identity lies at the heart of the matter”.
“A Culture Act that values and affirms our indigenous cultural identities and cultural traditions, all of them, including Ulster-Scots, could well be the way forward. It is certainly worth exploring,” he added.
Mrs Foster’s pledge to meet Irish language speakers to gain a better understanding of the culture has been described by Sinn Fein as a positive move.
Sinn Fein MLA Mairtin O Muilleoir said: “Anything which encourages dialogue, which encourages conversation, which encourages increased understanding of our shared heritage, has to be positive.”
As the negotiations to form a new executive adjourn for the Easter break, Mr O Muilleoir told the BBC: “As we move into this little time-out we should take yesterday’s initiative from Arlene Foster positively, and we should also hope then that she listens carefully to the views of the Irish language community, because they are absolutely united and firm on the need for an Irish Language Act, but even more than that, they really do want to be treated with respect.”
Meanwhile, the DUP has urged Sinn Fein to rethink its approach to powersharing restoration talks as the process pauses over the Easter break.
DUP MP Gregory Campbell told republicans they need to look beyond their own wish list and realise other people also have political issues they want to address.
“Sinn Fein’s closed-mind approach has led to Stormont being closed, it needs to change,” he said.
Negotiations to save devolution remain log-jammed, with two deadlines to form a new ruling executive falling by the wayside.
The region has been without a devolved government for six weeks, with a senior civil servant currently in charge of public service spending.
The UK government has warned Stormont’s rowing politicians they will face a snap election or a form of direct rule if they cannot restore powersharing by early May.
Sinn Fein demands for legislative protections for Irish speakers, an end to the region’s ban on gay marriage, and the implementation of a Northern Ireland-specific bill of rights are among the issues of dispute.
Devolution first crashed back in January when Sinn Fein pulled the plug on the last powersharing Executive over a row about a botched green energy scheme.
A snap election was held at the start of March but the DUP and Sinn Fein have been unable to agree a basis for establishing a new executive.