Public 'must be kept informed over talks on Irish language'


Discussions around a deal on the Irish language need to be more transparent to prevent scaremongering among the unionist community, the sister-in-law of former loyalist leader David Ervine has said.

Irish language activist Linda Ervine told of "silly" rumours she had heard in the period leading up to the collapse of powersharing talks in Northern Ireland last week.

As she attended a meeting in Belfast on Wednesday with the Oireachtas Committee on the Implementation of the Good Friday Agreement, Ms Ervine maintained unionists have nothing to fear from legislation protecting the Irish language.

She told the Press Association: "I believe that an act is something that we have in Scotland, we have an act in Wales.

"An act here would be different, it would be bespoke for Northern Ireland, but no, I don't think there's anything to fear and I think if you're not an Irish speaker it's really going to have very little impact on your life."

Rumours of the contents of an act - which had been the subject of talks behind closed doors between Sinn Fein and the DUP - may have contributed to fears around changes legislation might bring, she said.

"I think probably one of the saddest things is that people weren't made aware of what was in the act," she said.

"Maybe if people had had more knowledge then it might have been easier, I don't know."

Ms Ervine, who works with the Turas project in east Belfast, said there had been an element of "scaremongering" ahead of the talks collapse.

She said: "Rumours were spread about what was in an act. I read a lot of things about compulsory education, I read things like all businesses and charities would have to have bilingual correspondence, that you'd have to speak Irish to go and see your doctor - a lot of really silly things.

"But I think what it says is that people didn't know and I think maybe people needed to have more idea what was on the table, what was the possibility, what was being agreed to or not agreed to. I think it's the discussions behind closed doors are the big issue here."

Ahead of the meeting at the Europa Hotel, Sinn Fein's Niall O Donnghaile, a former lord mayor of Belfast and now an Irish senator, said it was an opportunity for members of the Oireachtas (Irish Parliament) committee "to come and hear directly from groups about their concerns but also see the vibrancy of the Irish language in the north".

On what he would tell language activists following the talks breakdown he said: "We will be saying to them that we are very determined that we need to achieve a standalone Acht na Gaeilge (Irish language act). We have said that consistently.

"I believe from what Sinn Fein have said publicly that that was a core component of the agreement that was reached with the DUP and unfortunately the DUP were unable, it transpires, to deliver on that deal and seal it."

The Oireachtas committee is on the final day of a two-day trip to Belfast to meet Irish language community groups, Irish medium schools and language rights campaigners.