Irish language: Michelle O’Neill tells Edwin Poots he has to deliver legislation

There must be no more “false dawns” on legislating for an Irish language act (ILA), the new leader of the DUP has been warned by Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill.

Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 6:00 am
Updated Wednesday, 2nd June 2021, 9:09 am

Sinn Fein’s Ms O’Neill has insisted that Edwin Poots should ensure legislation is brought forward in the current Assembly term.

During Executive Office questions at Stormont on Tuesday, Ms O’Neill insisted her party was committed to power-sharing when she was asked if Sinn Fein might refuse to re-nominate a deputy first minister unless the legislation was progressed.

However, she said failure to honour a commitment on the ILA is not sustainable.

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Edwin Poots at Stormont on Tuesday where he denied a delay in naming the new DUP ministerial team was caused by rows within the party

Mr Poots has faced an early test of his leadership with outgoing leader Arlene Foster making it clear she will not continue as first minister if a new ministerial team is appointed by her successor.

He has also denied receiving any ultimatum from Sinn Fein on Irish language provision.

“Certainly I have received no ultimatums nor do I expect to receive an ultimatum,” Mr Poots said.

At Stormont, Ms O’Neill said: “I think as we step our way out of the shadow of Covid-19 we now need to see delivery on the New Decade, New Approach political deal.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill and First Minister Arlene Foster make their way to the Assembly chamber at Stormont on Tuesday for Executive Office questions

“The commitment to an Irish language act was a key component of the NDNA deal. Failure to honour these commitments is just not a sustainable position ... there can be no more false dawns.”

Also at Stormont, TUV leader Jim Allister asked if Sinn Fein intended to “hold the DUP hostage” by refusing to re-nominate a deputy first minister until they received an Irish language act.

The New Decade New Approach deal in 2020 committed Northern Ireland’s political parties to establish an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, which would put in place provision for services in Irish and Ulster-Scots.

However, over a year on there has been no movement on commitments.

Ahead of what was likely to be her last appearance in the Assembly for Executive Office questions, Mrs Foster walked into the chamber alongside Ms O’Neill.

Responding to Mr Allister’s “hostage” question, Ms O’Neill said: “I have no desire to hold anyone to hostage. I have a desire to make politics work and to have the political commitments that were agreed upon delivered.

“Nobody has anything to fear from an Irish language act.”

Mr Allister added: “Simple question; will Sinn Fein nominate a deputy first minister if the DUP does not meet your terms?”

Ms O’Neill replied: “It is a matter for the DUP who they decide to put forward. I am committed to power-sharing, I hope that others are committed to power-sharing.”

Sinn Fein MLA Emma Sheerin said: “You will be aware that just last week the Irish language community once again took to the outside of this building to protest, such is their frustration at the lack of implementation that was agreed.”

Ms O’Neill responded: “We are running out of time. There is a short window left in the mandate so it is important that we get on with delivery of the legislation and the public get what they expect.”

Speaking in Hillsborough, Co Down on Tuesday, NI Secretary Brandon Lewis said the Province’s political leaders want to see a stable Stormont.

“That is how we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland,” he added.