A further two senior DUP figures have backed the Grand Master of the Orange Lodge after he warned that the Irish language was being used as a “cultural weapon” by republicans.
Writing in the News Letter on Thursday, Edward Stevenson had reiterated the institution’s opposition to a stand-alone Irish language act, but said the order had “no quarrel” with those who enjoy the language.
That view has been endorsed by unionist politicians in recent days, including the DUP’s Gregory Campbell and TUV leader Jim Allister.
And yesterday, two more DUP MPs – Sammy Wilson and Jim Shannon – welcomed Mr Stevenson’s statement, with the former saying that he felt it displayed the “solid opposition” from within unionist circles to a stand-alone act.
Both MPs also said Sinn Fein’s demands are unachievable, with Mr Shannon saying there has been “no movement” in the DUP over the issue.
Mr Wilson claimed many of Sinn Fein’s own supporters would not place an Irish language act high on their list of priorities.
“There are many people, be they unionist or nationalist, who are bemused by Sinn Fein’s insistence on placing Irish above issues such as education and health,” he said.
“Republicans need a reality check. What they are asking for is an impossibility and it is time they face up to that.”
Endorsing Mr Stevenson’s view that Irish has been generously supported by Stormont, Mr Wilson told the News Letter: “There has been a disproportionate expenditure from the public purse on Irish, and it really rankles with me that some schools in my constituency have been forced to close while Irish medium schools – which have a much lower head count – have opened.”
The provision for bilingual road signs is among the proposals put forward by Sinn Fein for an Irish language act.
But Mr Wilson has claimed such a move would prove “foolish and divisive”, adding: “It would lead to Irish street signs being imposed in places where they are not welcome and where few people would understand them.
“In some unionist areas, it would be tantamount to erecting a tricolour from a flagpole.
“They would be vandalised and torn down.”
Echoing remarks made by the Grand Master, Mr Wilson said the DUP was not seeking to deny anyone the right to speak and learn Irish.
The East Antrim MP added: “Arlene Foster has gone out of her way to show that she has no difficulty with speaking Irish. She has visited Irish medium schools and held discussions with Irish language organisations.
“But there has been no change to the DUP’s position regarding an Irish language act, nor will there be.”
Party colleague Jim Shannon reiterated Mr Wilson’s point, stating: “There has been no movement within the DUP on this issue.”
The Strangford MP said Mr Stevenson’s opposition to an Irish language act reflected the opinions of not just those in the unionist community, but also many nationalists.
“An Irish language act as proposed by Sinn Fein and others will never be acceptable to a majority of the population of Northern Ireland,” he told the News Letter.
“The reality is that there are certain things the DUP and Sinn Fein will never agree on.
“But republicans must not allow that to stand in the way of the democratic process.
“What Sinn Fein has set out is not achievable, as the implications of it go too far.
“The question is whether an accommodation can be found.”