Swann won’t say whether Irish language act would keep UUP out of Executive

Robin Swann being interviewed by the News Letter in his Stormont office. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker
Robin Swann being interviewed by the News Letter in his Stormont office. Picture: Colm Lenaghan/Pacemaker

Over recent months, the UUP has been barely behind Jim Allister in their vociferous opposition to any proposals for an Irish language act.

However, when asked if he would rule out re-entering a future Stormont Executive if such an act is part of its programme for government, Robin Swann repeatedly declined to do so.

He replied: “I suppose you’re looking at the semantics of where the programme for government comes, where the Irish language act will be – from what we’re hearing this morning, there’s not even going to be a potential of this place getting up and running any time soon.

“One of our concerns has been that the Irish language act – and I think Leo Varadkar has actually said it of the DUP and Sinn Fein ... it’s not about restoring this place for the good [of everyone]; they’re actually debating at this minute in time the intricacies of an Irish language act. To me, that’s not even democratic, if a debate on what future legislation should look like is being had behind closed doors, so we’ll see where it is and where it comes.”

When it was put to Mr Swann that he wasn’t ruling out re-entering the Executive with an Irish language act, he said: “I’m not getting into the hypotheticals of the thing ... we’re opposed to an Irish language act; we’re opposed to any form of an Irish language act.”

Pressed on the issue, he said: “We haven’t had that conversation, but we do not see the need for an Irish language act.”

He also rejected the suggestion that the party’s low ebb is evidenced by the fact that it anointed him leader – with only one other MLA seen as capable of doing the job – without a contest, despite the fact that he has only been an MLA since 2011.

Pointing out that he has been a party member for two decades, Mr Swann says: “To say I’m a relative newcomer is, I think, unfair.”

• Michael McGimpsey on Irish, page 21