We never agreed any Irish language act: DUP source

A senior DUP source has said the party never agreed to an Irish language act, despite what is written in the New Decade New Approach deal (NDNA).

Tuesday, 1st June 2021, 5:00 am
The newly-formed Stormont government, January 2020, following the striking of the New Decade New Approach deal

They were speaking after Arlene Foster gave an interview to the Financial Times, during which she indicated that her successor Edwin Poots must implement such an act.

The NDNA was drawn up in January 2020, with a view to restoring Stormont after Sinn Fein imploded it almost exactly three years earlier.

It sets out plans for “a commissioner to recognise, support, protect and enhance the development of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, and to provide official recognition of the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland”.

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Similar measures would apply to Ulster Scots.

The Financial Times interview was conducted with journalist Henry Mance.

One of the key exchanges he posted on his Twitter account (but left out of the finished text of the interview) centred on the question of whether “power-sharing could collapse if Poots reneges on Irish language act and associated package”.

Mr Mance quotes Mrs Foster as saying: “That was the basis of coming back into devolution [in 2020] so therefore it has to be delivered on... I think there will be consequences if he [backs out].”

However, the News Letter spoke today to a senior DUP figure, on condition of anonymity, who said: “I’d be very surprised if she said that because an Irish language act hasn’t been agreed.

“What was agreed in NDNA was a series of legislative provisions, along with an office for identity and a commissioner for British identity, et cetera. An Irish language act was never signed up to.

“Sinn Fein know that too. All that was agreed was a cultural package that included a whole range of other aspects as well...

“Arlene’s always been clear: there’s been no Irish language act signed up to.”

They suggested the portion of the Foster interview quoted here lacked “nuance”, and that a fuller explanation from her would have made clear she did not think the NDNA contains a bona fide language act.

The News Letter made dozens of calls to DUP MLAs and MPs today. Of the handful that answered, none said they knew anything about mooted plans for a ministerial reshuffle today by Edwin Poots.

For instance, education minister Peter Weir said: “I surely don’t know anything, and I think these are internal party matters – we just have to see how they play out.”

Asked to set out its stance today, the DUP press office said: “The party remains committed to the full implementation of the NDNA in all its parts.”

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Alistair Bushe