DUP MP says mooted culture act is ‘off the table’ as impasse continues

East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson
East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson

A senior DUP figure has ruled out suggestions that his party could be prepared to agree to a culture act which would grant legislative protection for the Irish language.

The remarks from Sammy Wilson come as the DUP and Sinn Fein continue to tussle over the republican party’s demand for a stand alone Irish language act, which remains at the centre of the political impasse at Stormont.

Sammy Wilson MP.

Sammy Wilson MP.

In a bid to break the deadlock, some DUP members had suggested the party may be open to some form of hybrid cultural act, which would introduce legislation to protect both Irish and Ulster-Scots.

But it appears the proposed concession is no longer on the cards.

Speaking to the News Letter yesterday, Mr Wilson said the move was “off the table”.

The East Antrim MP added: “This idea of a culture act or whatever you want to call it has been eliminated as an option.

“Sinn Fein has already made it clear that they will accept nothing less than a standalone act. So why would we offer them something they have already publicly rejected?”

He also endorsed comments made by his party leader, Arlene Foster at the weekend, when she said Sinn Fein’s refusal to move on a standalone Irish language act was being used to “humiliate” unionists.

Echoing these remarks, Mr Wilson said: “Sinn Fein want humiliation, not accommodation. Their stance on the Irish language is not about culture, it is about getting one over on unionism.

“We have been unequivocal in stating that we will not give in to Sinn Fein’s demands.”

The veteran DUP man also hit out at remarks made by fellow unionist Jim Allister, after the TUV leader this week claimed there has been a “subtle but significant shift” in language used by the DUP around legislative provision for Irish.

Mr Allister pointed to Mrs Foster’s remarks at the weekend, when she said her party remained unconvinced of the need for a “free-standing Irish language act”.

The North Antrim MLA said any legislation – whether under the guise of a culture act, or any other title – which makes Irish an official language would “advance the Sinn Fein goal of making unionists feel alienated in their own land and disadvantaged in terms of public service jobs”.

But Mr Wilson accused the TUV leader of “doing a disservice to unionism” and urged Mr Allister to “play on the same side as the rest of us”.

He added: “The Irish language issue is a significant one for unionists and there is considerable pressure to cave in to Sinn Fein’s demands.

“Mr Allister’s fight is not with us, it is with those who seek to Gaelicise Northern Ireland.”

Fellow DUP MP Gregory Campbell also slammed Mr Allister’s remarks, claiming he “revels in peddling fear within the unionist community”.

In response to these comments, Mr Allister told the News Letter: “I would welcome clarity that all unionists are singing from the same hymn sheet on this matter. “

He reiterated his support for Orange Order Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who wrote in last Thursday’s News Letter:“Any legislation, no matter what it’s called or how its packaged, which underpins the Irish language in a legal framework will have massive implications for local government, the courts, the civil service, schools and everyday life in Northern Ireland.”

Mr Allister said he “stands foursquare with the Grand Master” on this issue, adding:“If all the DUP have shifted to share that position and have dropped the idea of a culture act embracing both Irish and, for the optics, Ulster Scots it is a welcome development.

“The DUP leader can put the matter beyond doubt and in doing so she’ll have no quarrel from me.”

Back in July, Mr Campbell said his party would accept “some form of all-embracing culture and language act” – but not a standalone act.

Former DUP leader Peter Robinson suggested in June that some form of culture act that includes provision for both Irish and Ulster Scots would be acceptable.

And earlier this month, Mrs Foster called for legislation to promote Ulster Scots culture and language. In an article published in the Ulster Scots newspaper, the DUP leader wrote: “We must establish a new cultural deal to provide a comprehensive and long-term approach to the sensitive issue of identity.”