DUP MP Gregory Campbell has said that his party would accept “some form of all-embracing culture and language act” – but not a stand-alone Irish language act.
Mr Campbell said his party would not countenance any “copper-fastening in law” of an advantage for Irish over other languages but did suggest his party might accept some form of legislation to protect both Irish and Ulster-Scots.
He also suggested a “multi language” approach to any legislation might even include legal provision for other minority languages spoken here, such as Polish or Mandarin.
Mr Campbell, who in 2014 was barred for one day from speaking at the Assembly after poking fun at the use of the Irish language at Stormont, said: “We can either have an act which encompasses a number of cultures and languages, or we don’t have any act.”
His former party leader, Peter Robinson, had previously suggested in a Facebook post that some form of culture or language act that includes provision for both Irish and Ulster-Scots would be acceptable.
Mr Robinson had asked: “Who can complain if there are those who cherish the Irish language or who passionately support Ulster-Scots culture? Who would find it unacceptable for arrangements to be put on a statutory basis to protect and support both?”
Mr Campbell began an address to the Assembly in 2014 with the nonsense phrase ‘curry my yoghurt can coca cola yer’ – a series of words phoenetically similar to the Irish language phrase ‘go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle’, translating roughly to ‘thank you, speaker’ in English.
Afterwards, he stressed that his use of the phrase was not intended as a mockery of the Irish language itself but rather as a way of highlighting what he viewed as the unnecessary political use of the Irish language at Stormont.
Asked for his thoughts on proposals for an Irish language act, Mr Campbell told the News Letter: “Sinn Fein, at some point in the future, will have to acept the fact that getting a resolution to the issue is about getting a more encompassing approach.
“At the moment Irish gets considerably more funding than Ulster-Scots gets – what we can’t have is to have that advantage enshrined in law. That is what they (Sinn Fein) appear to be looking for and we can’t have that.
“What we would be happy to contemplate is some form of all-embracing culture and language act which has a number of facets, that doesn’t elevate one above another.
“We are happy to do that but we will not countenance copper-fastening in law the advantage that Irish currently has.”
He explained that the DUP would also consider including provisions for other minority languages, saying: “It’s either Irish and Ulster-Scots or a multi-language approach – different people will have different views on that – but what we can’t have is a single-focus approach that disadvantages all other language speakers apart from Irish. That is, in effect, what an Irish language act would do.”
He explained further: “With a sole act for a single language other than English, all others who have a language other than English whether it is Polish, Chinese or any other language, would quite rightly ask why Irish is given legal protection but their language isn’t.
“It either has to be multi-language or we will simply proceed with what we have at the moment, which is to treat all languages equally and fairly but with no act to protect any one of them. What we mustn’t have is any development as a result of a talks process or agreement is that people from any community feel that they are marginalised.”