Asked this morning if it was accurate that the government is pressing ahead with imposing Irish language legislation - even before unionist concerns with the NI Protocol are resolved - the NIO indicated only that it is pressing ahead. It did not offer any qualification to its timetable based on NI Protocol concerns.
A UK Government spokesperson told the News Letter: “It is disappointing that the Executive has not progressed legislation to deliver the balanced identity, language and culture package as agreed in the New Decade, New Approach agreement. This legislation will recognise Northern Ireland’s rich diversity.
“In accordance with this Government’s commitments, and in the absence of progress on this matter, we will take the necessary steps to introduce the legislation through the UK Parliament.”
In June this year, Mr Lewis said that a bill would be put before MPs in October if Stormont had not drafted its own legislation before the end of September.
That pledge from Mr Lewis led to Sinn Fein agreeing to form a new Executive – renominating Michelle O’Neill to serve alongside newly appointed DUP First Minister Paul Givan.
Last month, DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said the issues around the NI Protocol, and any “partial and one-sided” action by the NI secretary to legislate for a culture package – including an Irish language commissioner – could jeopardise the future of the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.
Sir Jeffrey said Mr Lewis was stating his intention to legislate “at a time when the government has not delivered on its New Decade New Approach pledges” in relation to restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the UK single market.
“This is not a sustainable position,” he said.
The move to legislate for the Irish language from Westminster comes after the UK government already took the controversial steps of bypassing the NI Assembly to impose legislation on NI which relaxed its strict restrictions on abortion and introduced same sex marriage.
TUV leader Jim Allister said the Government’s commitment to press ahead with Irish Language legislation now raises two fundamental issues.
“What is the point any longer of Stormont if a further devolved issue, which matters greatly to unionism, is usurped by further pandering to Sinn Fein? First, abortion, then same sex marriage, now Irish language!
“Sir Jeffrey Donaldson must now make good on his very clear declaration that such a move while the Protocol stays will cause him to collapse the superseded Stormont institutions. Unless they were bluffing, this is a moment of truth for the DUP?”
East Belfast DUP MP Gavin Robinson replied:“The New Decade New Approach agreement contains a number of commitments, including a clear commitment from the UK Government to legislate to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland to the whole of the UK internal market. NDNA specified that this legislation would be in force for 1 January 2021.
“Our position has not changed. Implementing NDNA in a one-sided way if the Government has not delivered on its own pledge in relation to the UK Single Market is not a sustainable position.”
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