A leading reconciliation campaigner has questioned the need for an Irish language act and claimed Sinn Fein is using the issue as a “smoke screen for some other agenda”.
Trevor Ringland also believes republicans have “poisoned attitudes” towards the language by using it as a red line to prevent the restoration of devolution.
And he urged Sinn Fein to “back off” the issue in a bid to de-politicise the language and defuse tensions.
Reconciliation activist and lawyer Mr Ringland said: “Nationalists need to realise that anything Sinn Fein touches tends to alienate vast sections of society.
“The tragic thing is that attitudes were becoming more and more relaxed towards Irish, but unfortunately the whole issue has become very divisive again due to Sinn Fein’s approach.
“It is nonsense to use this matter as a basis for not putting in place a government to deal with social issues such as health and education.”
Mr Ringland’s comments come after DUP leader Arlene Foster said at the weekend that Sinn Fein’s refusal to move on a standalone Irish language act was being used to “humiliate” unionists.
Mrs Foster said Sinn Fein’s “ring-fencing” of a free-standing act “makes it impossible for those of us who want to move forward”.
Mr Ringland said Sinn Fein’s apparent refusal to compromise on the matter “smacks of them having some other agenda”.
He added: “Sinn Fein is using this issue as a smoke screen. They don’t seem to want to take the responsibility of governing.
“If they are going to reject that responsibility, then what have they got to offer in return?”
The former British and Irish Lions rugby player said he has yet to be convinced of the need for legislation to protect the Irish language.
He added: “I have yet to be persuaded there is any need for an act of any sort, be it a standalone act or something that encompasses other languages as well.
“Irish had been flourishing in Northern Ireland and people were becoming increasingly relaxed about it before Sinn Fein poisoned attitudes by politicising the issue.
“Irish languages groups should be telling Sinn Fein to back off from the issue.”
Mr Ringland said he did not want to see the creation of “over-bearing legislation which takes money away from other areas where it is urgently needed”.
A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “The Irish language belongs to all and those who wish to speak it should not be denied their rights.”