If a Stormont deal is close, it could mean an Irish language act is too

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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The secretary of state is pushing the date for a compulsory assembly election to October from August 25, with an opportunity to extent until January 13.

Almost no-one now expects a deal before the end of the summer. And it is hard also to envisage a deal before the due date for Brexit at the end of October, particularly given that there is serious speculation about the possibility of an accidental no deal departure at that time.

However, Jim Wells MLA said on BBC’s Nolan Show that it could be restored at some point in the autumn. “I have just been advised that the talks have been talking place in a reasonably friendly atmosphere,” he said. “There have been the occasional spats but nobody has been storming out.”

That sounds all very well. But what does it mean in terms of an Irish language act?

The DUP denies that it agreed one last year. Even so, it has been Sinn Fein’s only unwavering red line, because the party knows what a major achievement it would be for republicans.

Almost no-one within unionism will think that any hybrid bill that avoids the words Irish language act is anything less than such an act. There is no wider appetite within that community for an Ulster Scots act to dilute or disguise the reality of such an Irish act. There is, in short, no desire to use Ulster Scots as a sectarian wedge. Nor is their desire for major Ulster Scots funding at a time of serious pressures on the public purse over schools, hospitals and other key areas of daily life. Sinn Fein would never accept funding as a way of softening any unionist advance it found politically unpalatable.

So if the atmosphere at Stormont is agreeable, what then does this mean about an Irish language act?

What do members of the DUP such as Mr Wells feel about that possibility? Many members of the party have been fiercely critical about an Irish language act – for good reason.

The single most important result in this process will be a signal that collapsing Stormont will never result in reward.