DUP councillors struck dumb on prospect of Irish language act

A number of DUP councillors across Northern Ireland have declined to comment on how the party's grass roots would respond to an Irish language act.

Wednesday, 28th June 2017, 8:10 am
Updated Tuesday, 12th September 2017, 11:51 am
Protest0rs at a rally in Belfast earlier this year calling for the introduction of an Irish language act in Northern Ireland

The News Letter rang a sample of 20 local representatives on Tuesday and not one of the 10 who answered their phones was prepared to discuss their views on the prospect of new legislation.

Statutory protection for Irish language has been one of Sinn Fein’s main demands prior to re-establishing the Northern Ireland Executive.

In a Facebook message yesterday, former DUP leader Peter Robinson said it was “entirely legitimate” for Sinn Fein to press for the implementation of an act – but said statutory protection for Ulster Scots should also be included.

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However, the elected representatives were referring all questions to the party press office.

Carrickfergus councillor Billy Ashe said he was “not in a position to comment,” while Omagh councillor Errol Thompson said: “I don’t want to talk to you about that. I would refer you to the party press office.”

Councillor Trevor Clarke from Coleraine said any talk of an Irish language act was “speculation” and added: “I couldn’t really say very much unless I knew exactly what it looked like.”

Armagh councillor Freda Donnelly said: “I’d rather you just went through the press office”. Tommy Jeffers, a DUP representative on Lisburn and Castlereagh Council, said: “I’ll have to refer you to the press office.”

In Tuesday’s News Letter, TUV leader Jim Allister said an Irish language act enshrined in law would be a “vehicle to hollow out our Britishness,” and called on DUP members to “take a stand on this pivotal issue”.

Other DUP councillors not wishing to comment were West Tyrone councillor Mark Buchanan, Castlereagh representative Sharon Skillen, Cllr Mark Baxter from Craigavon and Enniskillen councillor Keith Elliott.

Cllr Scott Carson from Lisburn said “you would need to go through the party’s press office”.

Former DUP MLA Nelson McCausland said: “Across the unionist community there is a view that this is not so much about language as about identity and the affirmation of identity, and therefore a culture act should reflect all of the cultural traditions that are indigenous to Northern Ireland – to ensure that they are treated fairly and equitably. There can’t be a situation where there is preferential treatment for the Irish language and an Irish gaelic identity.”

An Ulster-Scots Agency spokesman told the News Letter: “There is at present a very significant disparity between the treatment of the two principal minority cultures in Northern Ireland, Ulster-Scots and Irish, despite the fact that this is contrary to many international human rights agreements by which both the UK and Republic of Ireland are bound. If elected representatives agree that there should be legislation, then our hope would be that it will focus on ensuring equality and mutual respect between Irish and Ulster-Scots and will not serve to entrench the existing inequality.”