The Orange Order will not be used as a “bargaining chip” to get any deal on Irish language over the line, the institution’s grand secretary has warned.
Responding to claims that a breakthrough on restoring the power-sharing Executive could be imminent, Rev Mervyn Gibson reiterated the order’s opposition to an Irish language act (ILA) as the price for a return to Stormont.
Speculation has been mounting in recent days that the DUP and Sinn Fein are poised to announce that a deal has been done – including agreement around Sinn Fein’s ‘red line’ demand for a standalone act.
A report in Thursday’s Irish Times suggested there could be additional support for Ulster-Scots “and possibly the Orange Order” as part of a wider ‘cultural’ legislation proposal being put forward by the DUP.
The article highlighted the positive comments made by Irish foreign minister Simon Coveney on Wednesday, when he told the Seanad in Dublin he hoped for a “successful outcome” to the talks by the end of the week – with a possible “definitive statement” by early next week.
The same article quoted a senior political source as saying the parties were “close to a breakthrough,” and went on to claim: “Sinn Fein and the DUP have been attempting to reconcile their competing positions on the Irish language, with Sinn Fein demanding a standalone act and the DUP requiring more composite ‘cultural’ legislation that would also involve support for Ulster-Scots and possibly the Orange Order.”
In response, Rev Gibson told the News Letter: “The Orange Order would not allow itself to be a bargaining chip in any talks with regards to the Irish language or indeed other matters.”
The Stormont government collapsed in January after the resignation of the late Martin McGuinness as deputy first minister in a row over the DUP’s handling of a botched renewable heat incentive (RHI) green energy scheme.
Rev Gibson added: “There is, and always has been, a discrepancy in the funding that goes into unionist communities with regards to culture and that needs addressed, and we hope that whatever party is in power will deliver that.
“However, the grand master of the Orange Order made the attitude of the Orange Order to an Irish language act clear in a recent platform piece in the News Letter.”
In that platform last month (see link at bottom of this page), Edward Stevenson said the current demand for an ILA is simply “the next chapter in the republican campaign to rid Northern Ireland of any remaining semblance of British cultural identity,” and added: “Gerry Adams’ candid remarks and graphic language about his plans to break our community using the Trojan horse of equality, are an indicator of just how seriously we should take Sinn Fein’s assertion that it’s simply all about ‘rights’.”
Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann warned against using any increased Irish language provision to “mark out territory”.
He said: “This is all speculation at the moment, but one thing is very clear, the DUP and Sinn Fein are working very closely together on pushing for a deal to get them out of the political quagmire which they created.
“As I said earlier this week, it would be disrespectful to use Ulster-Scots and the military covenant as cover for past political failure and the grand master of the Orange Order has been absolutely clear and unambiguous in his views.”
Mr Swann said the DUP and Sinn Fein should not assume they can take the views of others for granted, and added: “Arlene Foster has reportedly warned Theresa May ‘that a border in the Irish Sea after Brexit cannot happen’ and on this we agree.
“However, it is equally unacceptable to place a de facto border across the middle of Northern Ireland where an Irish language act could be used as a vehicle to mark out territory and destabilise community relations.”
• There are still “very real challenges” to be addressed before Sinn Fein can agree to restore the Stormont Executive, the party’s Northern Ireland leader has said.
Michelle O’Neill was commenting as speculation mounted that a breakthrough in the talks between the DUP and Sinn Fein was imminent.
“We have been engaged in intensive talks to get the political institutions up and running with equality, respect and integrity at their core. A new Executive can only be sustainable if there is an end to the denial of rights which citizens enjoy everywhere else across these islands,” she said.
Ms O’Neill added: “There are still very real challenges to be addressed in the talks if we are to have political institutions which deliver for, and enjoy the confidence of all citizens.”