It will be a very bad sign if Westminster steps in to help Sinn Fein get Irish act

News Letter editorial of Tuesday June 15 2021:

Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 7:47 am
Updated Tuesday, 15th June 2021, 8:22 am
News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

Sinn Fein last night emerged from a meeting with the secretary of state to call on him to push an Irish language act through Westminster.

Mary Lou McDonald said, after meeting Brandon Lewis that “a number of weeks ago the British government offered to legislate for Acht Gaeilge in this way”.

It is not clear what Ms McDonald is referring to, but Mr Lewis did make unhelpful remarks in an interview with the Sunday Times recently. He said of an Irish language act: “I’m supportive of it. Across the United Kingdom, there is a tradition, a history and a pleasure in dialects and language. It shouldn’t be any different in Northern Ireland.”

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Mr Lewis is not well acquainted with NI, but he should have absorbed unionist concerns about sectarian republican use of Irish, which allied to terrorism, makes the NI language context different to the one in Scotland, Wales and Cornwall.

He should also know that the UK has a long tradition of neutral ministers failing to speak for unionist concerns when partisan Irish ministers such as Simon Coveney speak for nationalist ones. Both Mr Coveney and Leo Varadkar in 2017 said there should be an Irish act, which is an internal Northern Ireland matter. Their intervention came as Sinn Fein was keeping Stormont down until it got such an act.

The DUP should not have agreed an act, and the rhetoric of senior figures in the party led unionists to trust they would not do so. There is no point now insulting people by saying it is not an Irish language act, when in essence it is.

If Sinn Fein succeeds in bringing forward the act when the NI Protocol is in place and a pandemic has not been eradicated, either from the DUP granting its demand for Irish to be a priority, or Mr Lewis legislating for it, it will be a very bad development. Once again republican priorities will have dictated local politics.

No unionist MLA should be lulled into thinking that Westminster legislating for Irish is an easy solution. If unionists seem to have quietly acquiesced in such an outrageous course, it will be a fresh sign of lack of resolve.

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Alistair Bushe