Edwin Poots under fire after appearing to commit to Irish language legislation

Edwin Poots has come under fire after appearing to give a commitment to Irish language legislation.

Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 6:31 am
Updated Wednesday, 19th May 2021, 9:16 am

The incoming DUP leader, in an interview with the Press Association yesterday, has insisted Stormont power-sharing will not be at risk under his leadership of unionism’s biggest party.

He reiterated his determination to get rid of Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol but said he had “no intention whatsoever” of endangering devolution.

He also said he wanted to see outstanding commitments in the deal to restore power-sharing in 2020 honoured, including legislation on the Irish language and the full implementation of the Military Covenant in Northern Ireland.

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New DUP leader Edwin Poots speaking to PA Media at the party's offices in Stormont Parliament Buildings. Picture date: Tuesday May 18, 2021. PA Photo. See PA story ULSTER Politics. Photo credit should read: Niall Carson/PA Wire

Some within unionism and loyalism have suggested the DUP should be prepared to bring down the institutions if new post-Brexit trading arrangements – the NI Protocol –are not removed.

TUV leader Jim Allister, responding to Mr Poots’ comments, told the News Letter: “I’m not surprised, though disappointed, that Edwin Poots remains wedded to these things. His commitment to getting rid of the protocol is outweighed by his commitment to keeping in place the failed structures and systems of government. I didn’t hear anything from him which distinguished him from the approach of Arlene Foster.”

Loyalist activist Jamie Bryson, meanwhile, said it would be “absolutely absurd” if Mr Poots were to agree to implement Irish language legislation while the protocol remains.

The DUP has faced calls to block planned Irish language laws while the political impasse over the protocol remains.

Mr Poots said he remained committed to all elements of the 2020 New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal.

Mr Bryson said the NDNA deal contains a commitment from the British government to “unfettered access to the United Kingdom internal market”.

“Mr Poots said he wanted to see all the package delivered,” he said. “If he is saying there will be no Irish language act until the protocol is removed, that is one thing which I can almost understand.”

In his interview Mr Poots said: “There’s no risk to the institutions coming from Edwin Poots.

“The damage that was done to the institutions historically has been from Sinn Fein. They collapsed them for three years from 2016 to 2019.

“That is something that was hugely divisive, did massive damage to the health service, because our waiting lists spiralled in that period and they would need to reflect if that is a route that they wish to go down.

“I have no intention whatsoever of taking any actions that will damage institutions here in the Northern Ireland Assembly.”

Asked if he stood by the commitments his party had made in the NDNA agreement, including legislation for Irish language speakers, Mr Poots replied: “I wish to see all NDNA commitments fulfilled, including the Military Covenant.”

Mr Poots has also vowed to promote female and younger DUP MLAs into senior roles in his new-look Stormont team.

He said he wanted to see a “fresh injection” across party structures, reiterating a desire to encompass a broad range of voices in policy formation.

“There might have been a bit of staleness that had developed over the years, and we need a bit of a fresh injection,” he said.

Mr Poots said he wanted his ministerial team and the holders of key committee roles to be reflective of the “wider community”.

“I want there to be generational change in the DUP,” he said. “I want to see more women coming into politics in the frontline. I want there to be younger people coming into politics. And that’s something that I will help to drag forward.”

Asked if that would be reflected in the allocation of ministerial portfolios and committee chair and vice chair positions, Mr Poots said: “Absolutely.

“I think that one of the things that I’ll be doing is having a bit of freshness and bringing new people on and ensuring that the party is reflective of the wider community.”

Mr Poots will not be making any announcements on his new team until his election is formally ratified by the party.