Former Ulster Unionist leader Sir Reg Empey has claimed that Sinn Fein’s demand for an Irish language act is “less about recognition and more about trying to impose an ideology that decades of brutal terror could not”.
The House of Lords peer made the remarks yesterday in the wake of an article penned by Sinn Fein MLA Declan Kearney.
In the piece, which was published on EamonnMallie.com on Monday, Mr Kearney said implementation of an Irish language act “is central to parity of esteem, and proper, official acceptance of the Irish national identity in the North of Ireland”.
However, Lord Empey claimed Sinn Fein is using the issue of an Irish language act as a way to divide the people of Northern Ireland, rather than unite them.
He added: “Sinn Fein clearly need reminding that they are not the gatekeepers of equality and human rights. We must never forget that Sinn Fein were willing and enthusiastic apologists for decades of human rights abuses perpetrated by the IRA.
“It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is less about recognition and more about trying to impose an ideology that decades of brutal terror could not.
“One might reasonably ask the question that if this was so central to republicans why did they not ask for an act during the 1998 negotiations?”
Lord Empey also accused the republican party of “desperately trying to pursue De Valera’s ideal of recreating a mythical nation of true bred gaels, fluent in their ancient tongue – a tongue precious few of them can speak”.
He added: “The sub-text is clear. Those who do not speak Irish or who do not regard it as part of their identity and heritage are not truly Irish.
“Sinn Fein needs to understand that they do not get to define who or what is Irish.”
In his article, Mr Kearney also wrote: “An Ireland of equals will only come about once partition has been ended and a national democracy is achieved.
“Sinn Féin being in government North and South is an intermediate objective to the success of that strategy.”
TUV leader Jim Allister said Mr Kearney’s comments should demonstrate to unionists that “Stormont for Sinn Fein is a waiting room for Irish unity”.
He added: “Kearney could not be clearer: Stormont is but a stepping stone, with an Irish language Act a prop along the way.”