Sinn Fein refuses to clarify position on affirmative action over Irish language

MLA Caral Ni Cuillan at an Irish language protest. Picture Pacemaker
MLA Caral Ni Cuillan at an Irish language protest. Picture Pacemaker

It remained unclear last night as to whether Sinn Fein has removed the affirmative action demand from its Irish language proposals.

Having been asked a series of questions by the News Letter over two days, the party’s press office refused to explicitly clarify its position regarding Irish language proposals on affirmative action (often known as ‘positive discrimination’) in favour of Irish speakers when it comes to recruitment to the civil service and other public bodies.

On Wednesday it had been widely reported that the party had withdrawn its affirmative action demand.

However, yesterday it looked as though the demand was back on the table.

Whilst Wednesday’s edition of the Nolan Show on BBC Radio Ulster had said that Sinn Fein had ruled out affirmative action, Friday’s edition of the show saw presenter Stephen Nolan state that a senior source within Sinn Fein had told him affirmative action is still among the proposals they are considering.

When asked to clarify the matter by the News Letter, Sinn Fein’s response gave no indication whether or not it still wanted to see affirmative action. The party did however indicate that a clause requiring 10% of new civil service recruits to be Irish speakers is not something that forms part of its proposals.

On Wednesday the News Letter had asked Sinn Fein if Caral Ni Chuilin’s 2015 consultation paper on an Irish act was the basis for its current demands, and also if it ruled out affirmative action for recruitment to the civil service and public bodies.

Its response had been to confirm the first part of the question, and to answer the second part by providing a link to a blog written by Mairtín O Muilleoir for the Eamonn Mallie website, in which he dismissed as “bunkum” rumours that Sinn Fein will make speaking Irish a condition of employment for 10% of public employees.

More questions were asked of its position on affirmative action but the party did not make any further comment.

Former UUP leader Mike Nesbitt had said Sinn Fein was “all over the place” after apparently removing a “key red line”.

And then as it appeared yesterday that affirmative action may still be a demand, the News Letter asked Sinn Fein about its position again.

Its press office provided the same response as Wednesday, and when queried further about affirmative action no response was forthcoming.

UUP leader Robin Swann noted on Friday that “the idea of positive discrimination has not been ruled out completely, merely the percentage”.

He added that he fears the entire debate is only “serving to further divide society”.

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