DUP will not clarify position on Irish Language Act costs

A DUP delegation, including Edwin Poots MLA (left) speaking to media at Stormont Castle, Belfast on Thursday as the talks process continues.
A DUP delegation, including Edwin Poots MLA (left) speaking to media at Stormont Castle, Belfast on Thursday as the talks process continues.

The DUP has declined to confirm or deny claims that it described a £19m estimate to introduce an Irish Language Act as “reasonable”.

Irish language group, Conradh na Gaeilge (The Gaelic League), met a DUP delegation in April, including party leader Arlene Foster and Lagan Valley MLA Edwin Poots.

And the organisation claims Mr Poots told them their proposed figure of £19m for implementing an Irish Language Act was “reasonable”.

When asked if this was an accurate reflection of the DUP’s stance on the matter, a party spokesperson simply said: “Our views are well known and documented.

“We want to see mutual respect for all languages and cultures in Northern Ireland but not one elevated above all others.”

The issue of an Irish Language Act has been a major stumbling block in talks to restore the power-sharing institutions at Stormont.

Back in February, Mrs Foster said more people spoke Polish than Irish in Northern Ireland and declared the DUP would never agree to an act protecting the language, a key Sinn Fein aim in negotiations to save devolution.

However, in April Mrs Foster said she wanted to meet Irish speakers, to better understand those who love the language.

As part of that process, Mrs Foster and her party colleagues Mr Poots, South Belfast MLA Christopher Stalford and party advisor David Graham met a delegation from Conradh na Gaeilge.

The group has laid out its proposed costings for the implementation an Irish-language Act, stating it would require £2m per year with an additional, one-off, cost of £9m needed to build the basic infrastructure to support the practical implementation of the legislation.

These costs are based on a five-year plan over the lifespan of an Executive, leaving the total five year cost at £19m.

The group also believes the cost should decrease over time.

Dr Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge said the views expressed by Mr Poots were “significant”.

He added: “We see this as a considerable development, considering the public statements previously made by the DUP in which cost was used as the main obstacle to progressing legislation.”

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin, advocacy manager, Conradh na Gaeilge added: “If the DUP are content that our costings are ‘reasonable’ and therefore achievable, we would query the basis of the continued public opposition by certain members of their party to an Irish-language Act, especially on the grounds of cost.

“We would hope therefore that significant progress can be made during the ongoing talks given the DUP’s acceptance that our proposals are reasonable.”

However, TUV leader Jim Allister has urged the DUP to “come clean” on where they stand on Conradh na Gaeilge’s proposals.

He added: “Anyone who looks at the group’s proposals will quickly see that their claims about cost are nonsense. The cost of an additional £10m on Irish from the BBC licence fee, increased Irish medium education, translating Irish and council Assembly business is not included for example but are included in their proposals.

“The aggressive promotion of Irish which will follow an Irish Language Act will be hugely divisive.”