Jim Allister: Unionist voters will not be fooled — last year’s Stormont deal included an Irish language act

It is noteworthy that some have resurrected the old spin that the New Decade New Approach deal does not contain a commitment to an Irish Language Act and are talking once again about a ‘cultural package’.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 8:30 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 9:13 am
Jim Allister QC MLA, who leads Traditional Unionist Voice, speaks to the media in the Great Hall at Parliament Buildings, Stormont, on January 6 last year, as talks continued to restore devolution three years after it was collapsed by Sinn Fein in 2017. Mr Allister was one of the few politicians to oppose the New Decade New Approach deal, signed days later. Picture by Jonathan Porter/PressEye

It is worth therefore reminding ourselves of what New Decade New Approach does commit the parties to.

We are not left in any doubt, not least because draft legislation was published alongside the agreement.

New Decade New Approach means there will be “official recognition of the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland” – something the English language doesn’t even have.

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It will also see the establishment of an Irish Language Commissioner with statutory power to “protect and enhance the development of the use of the Irish language by public authorities”.

Thus a zealot will set standards which every public body must meet when it comes to the delivery of services in Irish.

Clearly over time staff who are fluent in Irish will have an advantage.

The pattern of language legislation in Wales and Scotland is of a progressive promotion of the language over time.

It will be no different here because the standards required to be met by public bodies will be reviewed every five years, providing fresh opportunities for escalating demands.

No amount of spin about Ulster Scots will obscure the reality of what is being conceded here.

With the legislation providing for official status of Irish and a commissioner in place to push the promotion of services though Irish it is quite clear who would be the winner were New Decade New Approach to be delivered.

Any unionist who concedes such would do well to reflect on how they will sell it on the doorstep come the next election, particularly to those who will rightly wonder about its long term impact on their children and grandchildren’s employment prospects if they do not speak Irish.

If they believe they will get away with dressing it up as part of a “cultural package” my advice is to think again.

The unionist electorate won’t be fooled.

Jim Allister QC MLA leads Traditional Unionist Voice

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