DUP MP Ian Paisley was speaking after the Secretary of State agreed to Sinn Fein demands to pass the legislation for an Irish Language Act via Westminster, after DUP leader Edwin Poots indicated he was not ready to pass the legislation through the Assembly.
The News Letter asked Mr Paisley if he thought north Antrim would be relaxed if such an act required Irish language road signs for example in areas such as Ballymena, or whether it might be more likely that they would be vandalised (as has happened to bi-lingual signs in south Down and Mid Ulster).
Mr Paisley feared many of them could be attacked.
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“I would fear the erection of such signs could lead to them being vandalised, which could be grossly unfair to areas where they were located,” he said.
Draft legislation for the Irish language was previously prepared by the Office of the Legislative Counsel in Northern Ireland at the request of the UK Government, published by the Secretary of State and Tánaiste in January 2020.
It is understood the legislation which would be passed in Westminster would remain faithful to this draft bill.
It is also understood the draft legislation would make no provision for quotas for Irish speakers, compulsory teaching of Irish, or mandatory changes to road signs, and would mean taxpayers’ money will not be spent where there is no demand.
The bill would provide that language commissioners can monitor compliance and report on this, but will not have prosecutorial powers to act against non-compliance.
However a senior DUP source said that, while accepting these assurances as broadly accurate, they are missing the bigger picture.
“This act is only the latest stage in a very long term Irish language strategy for Northern Ireland,” he said.
“The activists behind it are largely publicly funded. They are well experienced in taking legal action in furtherance of their goals. And they have a long term incremental approach.
“Once they get this act under their belt you can be sure the commissioner will take successive court actions to ensure every public body across NI complies in rolling out Irish language usage in all respects.”
TUV leader Jim Allister also flatly rejected assurances that the legislation would be watered down compared to what Sinn Fein originally demanded.
Describing the suggestion as “eyewash” he added: “The Irish language commissioner will have proactive powers and a statutory duty to promote Irish with every public body across Northern Ireland.”
Sinn Fein, the SDLP and Conradh na Gaeilge were invited to comment.
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