We seek a deal – but NI will not be held to ransom

Sinn Fein leader in Northern Ireland Michelle O'Neill joins Irish language act campaigners, including pupils from Irish-medium schools, in a protest at Stormont. Photo: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

In 2016 a decision was taken by Sinn Fein to collapse devolution.

Excuses were found at that time which have been long since abandoned.

As a minister I knew the issues the Executive was preparing to face. The severe pressures facing our public services today were already building at that time.

Over a number of months the Sinn Fein excuses for collapsing Stormont morphed into preconditions preventing its restoration. None of those issues related to the health service, education or our infrastructure. None of Sinn Fein’s red lines were about the needs of the public. They were about the narrow interests of Sinn Fein.

We should respect the Irish language and those who speak it in Northern Ireland, not because of Sinn Fein’s actions but despite them.

We should also respect all the languages and cultures which form part of the fabric of Northern Ireland. If you demand respect for one language and culture then you must be prepared to offer it to others in return.

Respect for the Irish language however must mean not imposing it upon those of us who do not see it as part of our cultural identity.

Irish language enthusiasts may also wish to reflect on why many of us within the unionist community do not wish to engage with it.

The “weaponisation” of Irish by republicans is the prime reason for this, with the language having been presented not just as a means of communication but as part of their “struggle”.

A desire for one language or culture to dominate over another will not produce a fair and balanced outcome.

That’s why the DUP does not support the call for a stand alone Irish language act.

After weeks of negotiations it was clear Sinn Fein were still only interested in a one-sided deal, that’s why it was right for Arlene Foster to call time on the talks.

I hope that talks might resume in the future where we will again seek an accommodation which can demonstrate respect for British identity and culture.

Northern Ireland cannot continue to drift however and that is why Westminster must now act to set a budget and take key decisions.

The DUP has ensured that extra resources are available for Northern Ireland and those too must be made available to benefit everyone living here.

We will continue to use our influence wherever possible to strengthen the Union and improve the lives of all our citizens.

Whilst decision-making in London is necessary at present, devolution must remain our objective.

It is in the long-term interests of unionists to have control over our own destiny.

We will continue to work towards a fair and balanced deal but we will not allow Sinn Fein to hold Northern Ireland to ransom.

l Simon Hamilton is a DUP MLA and member of the party’s Stormont negotiating team

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