Claims that the draft deal drawn up by the DUP and Sinn Fein would lead to Irish language road signs and a powerful Irish language commissioner have been rejected by a senior DUP negotiator.
Simon Hamilton dismissed comments made by Jim Allister as “scaremongering,” and said the TUV leader “studiously ignores” the fact that no final agreement had been reached.
The Strangford MLA also said Mr Allister was “clutching at straws” and ignoring his own previous predictions “in order to shift to a position of rejecting any possible accommodation”.
On Wednesday, in response to the leaked text of the draft document published by the EamonnMallie.com website, Mr Allister said: “The legislation will place a duty on the Irish language commissioner to set Irish standards for all departments and public bodies for the promotion and use of Irish in the delivery of services through the medium of Irish”.
Referring to the role of the NI Department of Infrastructure – which has responsibility for road signs – Mr Allister added: “So if you have a situation where he [the commissioner] will set standards for the department ... it seems to me that there will be Irish roads signs here through the back door.
“And if there are any impediments to this happening, there will likely be a judicial review at public expense.”
Mr Hamilton said the DUP was “prepared to legislate for Irish within the context of the plurality of languages and cultures in Northern Ireland,” but added: “We have been very clear however that Irish cannot be imposed upon people through placing it on a par with English or a commissioner with the power to prosecute aided by a new criminal offence.”
The DUP and Sinn Fein have been unable to reach a deal that would allow for the restoration of the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.
Mr Hamilton said: “Last year, the TUV helpfully published a document entitled ‘Irish Language Act – What it Would Mean’.
“In it, Mr Allister’s party spelt out with complete confidence what would be in any Irish language legislation, claiming it would include Irish as an official language in Northern Ireland on a par with English, affirmative action for Irish speakers in public sector recruitment, bilingual road signs and an Irish language commissioner backed up by a new criminal offence to prosecute public bodies.
“Jim’s scaremongering is spectacularly inaccurate.”
He added: “There will be no stand-alone Irish language act and not a single item on Jim Allister’s ‘checklist’ of issues appears within the leaked document he refers to.”