Unionists unite over Irish act

Arlene Foster
Arlene Foster

Leaders of political unionism in Northern Ireland have reiterated their opposition to a mooted Irish language act.

Arlene Foster, Robin Swann and Jim Allister have each outlined their respective objections to Sinn Fein’s demand for official recognition for Irish.

The three unionist leaders were speaking in the Orange Standard newspaper in support of comments made by Grand Master Edward Stevenson, who previously told the News Letter that while his institution has “no quarrel” with Irish speakers, he felt the language was being used as “a cultural weapon by political republicanism”.

The show of unity from unionism comes after the collapse of talks aimed at salvaging devolution last month.

The Irish language has been a key sticking point in efforts to restore power-sharing, with the Province having been without a functioning government since January 2017.

DUP leader Mrs Foster claimed “no unionist would be against reasonable legislation”, but stressed a return to devolution “cannot be at any price”.

She also accused Sinn Fein of holding Northern Ireland to ransom “to advance its own narrow agenda”.

And despite claims by Sinn Fein that a draft agreement had been reached – which included provisions of an Irish language act – Mrs Foster remained adamant that no such agreement had been struck.

UUP leader Robin Swann said his party does not believe there is any need for legislation to protect Irish, adding that the issue was being used by republicans as “a tool to further divide people” in the Province.

While many proponents of an act claim the language has been “oppressed and starved of funding”, Mr Swann said the reality is that “by any standard of measurement, Irish is very generously provided for”.

TUV leader Jim Allister expressed his alarm at the potential repercussions of official legislation for the language.

He continued: “The pattern of language legislation in Wales and Scotland is a progressive tightening of the noose. It will be no different here.

“Anyone who gives ground on this issue is helping to facilitate the republican ‘struggle’.”