An Irish language act enshrined in law would be a “vehicle to hollow out our Britishness,” Jim Allister has claimed.
The TUV leader described the prospect of granting official status to Irish as a “kamikaze course” for the DUP and said it was time for “far thinking unionists in that party to take a stand on this pivotal issue”.
Mr Allister was commenting following reports that Sinn Fein would be happy to re-form the power-sharing Executive at Stormont with the DUP if a deal could be reached on Irish language.
“The DUP and ‘never’ has an alarming record when it comes to staying the course,” he said.
“Hence my concern that for the sake of power we will see a catastrophic roll over by the DUP on an Irish language act.”
Mr Allister described such an act as “unnecessary and foolhardy on financial grounds,” as well as expressing fears it would “turn the public service and its jobs into a cold house for unionists”.
We will see a catastrophic roll over by the DUP on an Irish language actJim Allister
He added: “The evil genius of bestowing official status on Irish through an Irish language act is that it activates the transformation of the public service into an employer where preferment will favour Irish speakers. Hence, the reason why it is such a key part of Sinn Fein’s long game – with [Gerry] Adams demanding an act ‘with muscle’. That is how it was used in the Republic of Ireland by de Valera and how it would undoubtedly unfold within Northern Ireland.”
Last week the DUP declined to confirm or deny claims it had described a £19 million estimate for introducing an Irish language act as “reasonable”.
Tommy Nicholl, veteran DUP councillor and one of the party’s founding members, said he sensed some room for movement on increased support for Irish language – provided it stopped short of primary legislation.
“Certainly there are things that over the years we have had to swallow for the greater good of unionism, but I would draw the line at an Irish language act,” he said.
The Ballymena councillor added: “You will get an element of opposition to it, but the vast majority of people realise that we have got to give a little somewhere.”
Ards and North Down DUP councillor Robert Gibson said the cost of an Irish language act was the main stumbling block.
“I’m not saying that people are totally opposed to it, but they don’t see it as the best use of resources at this stage,” he said.
Mr Gibson, who chairs a primary school board of governors and is a former chair of the Education and Library Board, added: “The main concern may well be the cost, whenever we have problems with our health service and education budgets shrinking.”
Former DUP culture minister Nelson McCausland said many unionists believed Sinn Fein’s campaign is mainly motivated by “identity” issues.
“There can’t be a situation where there is preferential treatment for the Irish language and an Irish gaelic identity. 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,” Mr McCausland said.