Peadar Tóibín is right about Sinn Fein’s approach to an Irish language act, but others are failing to speak up

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial
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Few people outside of the nationalist tradition would be attracted to the fledgling party Aontú.

While its commitment to protecting the sanctity of life of the unborn would be respected and widely shared by people of all faiths and none, it is a party that emerged from republicanism. Peadar Tóibín, Aontú’s leader, is a former member of Sinn Fein.

While evangelical Protestants would make common ground with most pro life movements, almost none of them will ever accept that armed struggle was necessary in Northern Ireland. Indeed they would view that idea with contempt.

It is only fair to note though that Mr Tóibín has said various things that challenge Sinn Fein dogma, and not just over the question of its policy on terminations.

Yesterday, at the launch of Aontú’s Westminster manifesto, Mr Tóibín was strongly critical of the Sinn Fein demand for an Irish language act (ILA) before power sharing returns.

“There are bread and butter, life and death concerns that are consuming the people of the north of Ireland on a daily basis and indeed it is wrong to stop development or progress on those issues, because of the Irish language act,” he said.

This is an admirable thing for anyone to say from a republican perspective, given that an ILA has become a mantra. It is welcome that Mr Tóibín has been so forthright.

But at the same time, his comment draws attention to the fact that this obvious point about blocking other issues due to an Irish language act is so rarely made by anyone else, even amid an NHS crisis rooted in the lack of ministers.

Some unionists fail to make it, and instead urge progress and even sometimes hint towards support for an act. Why does the SDLP party not say there should be no commitment to an ILA or any other particular policy before the return of Stormont? Or Alliance say it, or the Greens, or the British government? The Irish government, far from saying this, has implied that it too sees an ILA as essential to progress.

If an ILA is given to get Stormont, it will be paying ransom.