‘ILA means Irish will be compulsory in schools’: Empey

Lord Empey. Picture: Mark Marlow/pacemaker press
Lord Empey. Picture: Mark Marlow/pacemaker press

Irish language will be a “compulsory” subject taught in Northern Ireland’s schools if the DUP “caves in” to Sinn Fein demands over an Irish language act, Sir Reg Empey has said.

The Ulster Unionist peer said Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams’ agenda is to create the impression Northern Ireland is part of an Irish Republic.

“Adams’ agenda is to create difference; to try and make people believe they live in a different country, and not part of the UK,” Lord Empey said.

“Unlike Scotland and Wales, there are no geographic areas of Northern Ireland where Irish is spoken as the first language. In any event, Irish is protected by the European Charter on Regional and Minority languages, together with all that flowed from Belfast Agreement, including the body that promotes the language.”

Lord Empey, who helped negotiate the Belfast Agreement, added: “Adams is following the De Valera line that you can’t have a nation if you don’t have a language. If the DUP cave in to the Sinn Fein agenda – and I think they already have – it will ultimately lead to compulsory Irish having to be taught in all schools.

“They may try to use Ulster-Scots as a fig leaf, but that’s all it would be. Sinn Fein hijacked the GAA in 19th century and they are doing the same with Irish today.”

Proposals put out for consultation by the then culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin in 2015 included a provision to require the Irish and English languages to be treated equally during proceedings in the Assembly, and the appointment of an Irish Language Commissioner to (among other responsibilities and powers) ensure that the Irish language is treated no less favourably than English – including power to initiate prosecutions for a newly created offence of refusing or failing to co-operate with the work of the Irish Language Commissioner.

In an interview published in Monday’s Belfast Telegraph, DUP MLA Paula Bradley said she thought her party could find “mutual ground” on provision for Irish, but added: “I don’t think an Irish language act is something we can accept right now – I don’t think it’s something the people who voted for us will accept. It’s quite difficult to go against what you stood for.”