Linda Ervine: Stormont should not have stopped for Irish Act

East Belfast Irish Language enthusiast Linda Ervine is in favour of an Irish Language Act but has never believed Stormont should have been suspended for it. Picture by Brian Thompson / Presseye.com
East Belfast Irish Language enthusiast Linda Ervine is in favour of an Irish Language Act but has never believed Stormont should have been suspended for it. Picture by Brian Thompson / Presseye.com

Irish language enthusiast Linda Irvine has never supported the suspension of the Assembly until an Irish language Act has been agreed - and feels the two largest parties at Stormont have latched onto the issue as a symbol of deeper disagreement and distrust.

The late Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness resigned in January 2017, pulling down the assembly. He accused the DUP of wrongdoing in relation to RHI, women’s and LGBT rights and the Irish language.

However of all the issues, it now appears the only demand Sinn Fein is sticking to before returning to Stormont is an Irish Language Act (ILA).

In the meantime, a myriad of voices are increasingly being raised across NI to express exasperation about the massive impact the lack of ministers at Stormont is having, for example, on the education and health sectors.

Asked if the political paralysis was a price worth paying for an ILA, east Belfast Irish language enthusiast Linda Ervine - who is in favour of the legislation - was emphatic that it was not.

“Do I think the whole world should stop until we get an Irish Language Act? No, I don’t, of course I don’t,” she said. “I am not asking for that, I have never asked for that.”

She added: “It is really a tool being abused by both parties. And I would imagine that if we had an Irish Language Act tomorrow and everybody put back in [to Stormont] we would be in no better a position, that there still would be problems.”

There had been a formal agreement for 12 years for an ILA without it becoming a political issue, she noted.

“It would be disingenuous and unfair to say that we were all getting along fine and everything was working out lovely and then this awful Irish language community wanted and Irish language act and Sinn Fein said ‘Yeah okay, we are going to walk away because there is no Irish Language Act’. That isn’t true.

“There were numerous reasons things at Stormont broke down and then among the myriad of things that was going wrong the Irish language act was one of the things that was gripped on to as a symbol of disagreement between them.”

The real problem is the issue of the DUP and Sinn Fein “being unable to find ways to compromise, work together and show respect to each other” she added.

However Dr Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh of Irish language organisation Conradh na Gaeilge takes a contrasting view and believes that devolved government should not be reformed until an Irish Language Act is agreed.

“It is the denial of rights that is holding us all up, not the assertion of those rights,” he said.

“The last executive began with DUP Minister Peter Weir targeting Irish medium schools; removing nurture unit status, refusing development proposals and many other regressive measures.

“This and similar behaviour from fellow DUP ministers was not conducive to stable government representative of all.

“Everyone would like to see a return of local ministers taking decisions on our behalf but for that to be stable it must be based on delivery of rights and implementation of previous agreements.

“Anything short of that would see us continue to move from crisis to crisis whilst many sections of our diverse society continue to be denied rights that are afforded to others across these islands.”