Former Stormont first minister Peter Robinson has branded Sinn Fein’s stance on Irish language provisions “pitiful and absurd”.
In a rare post-retirement intervention into the political debate, the ex-DUP leader said the republican demand for a stand-alone Irish Language Act is unacceptable.
Mr Robinson asked why Sinn Fein is not prepared to support a piece of legislation that offers protections for both Irish speakers and those who support Ulster Scots culture.
In a Facebook post, the former first minister claimed Sinn Fein’s electoral credibility in the Republic of Ireland would be potentially diminished if the party fails to sign up to a deal to restore powersharing north of the border.
He said if direct rule is reimposed from Westminster, Sinn Fein would effectively be left watching on while a Conservative Government in close contact with the DUP administers government in Northern Ireland.
“The DUP have passed the test of being responsible political negotiators,” he wrote.
“Now it is Sinn Fein’s turn to step forward.
“At the heart of the Sinn Fein case is a demand for an Irish Language Act. It is pitiful and absurd that republicans would collapse the democratic institutions to advance their cultural agenda.
“It is entirely legitimate for Sinn Fein to press for an Irish Language Act and of course there is every need for all the parties to respect, and where possible, accommodate differences, but that can never be a one-way street. There is no credibility in asserting your need to have your culture respected if you blatantly disrespect that of others.
“So let’s see a sensible deal. Who can complain if there are those who cherish the Irish language or who passionately support Ulster Scots culture? Who would find it unacceptable for arrangements to be put on a statutory basis to protect and support both?
“Both can be accommodated. It seems that Sinn Fein do not just want the language to be recognised and supported but require that it is isolated from any other cultural provisions and given supremacy in a free standing ILA (Irish Language Act).
“It would be churlish to let a deal collapse by demanding a stand-alone Bill as if one culture had pre-eminence and should not be given legal recognition alongside the cultural expression of others.
“That would not be showing respect or practising equality. If the Irish language was incapable of co-existing in legislation with other cultural expressions, then surely it would follow that it is not capable of co-existing in life with other cultures. This is manifestly not the case.
“People want the Assembly restored and will not easily forgive those who stand in the way.”
Referring to the prospect of direct rule, Mr Robinson wrote: “Business will be done at Westminster where unionism is Northern Ireland’s only voice and, post-EU, Sinn Fein’s only relevance in Northern Ireland politics will be at council level.
“So I end where I began. It is Sinn Fein’s turn to act responsibly in the interests of the people. This is a time for leadership which has not been evident recently from republicans. Sinn Fein must show that it is interested in the wellbeing of its constituents’ health, education, infrastructure and jobs.
“Hiding behind political rhetoric and taking refuge in extending its abstentionism is not what is needed.
“Has Sinn Fein got the ability to match the DUP and act in the public interest? We will soon find out.”