‘Weak and ill-advised’ legislation proposals would raise tensions: Irish group

Failure to agree on an Irish language act is one of the issues preventing the restoration of devolution

Mooted plans between the DUP and Sinn Fein to legislate for protection of Irish have been branded “weak and ill-advised” by a language campaigner.

A leaked document – which Sinn Fein have described as a ‘draft agreement’ it reached with the DUP – contains a section on language provision with proposals for three separate bills – covering Irish, Ulster-Scots and the importance of respect and tolerance.

Had the deal been finalised, a commissioner to oversee adherence to any new Irish language obligations placed on public bodies would have taken a major step towards being established.

The ‘draft agreement’ would also have provided official recognition of the minority language, and the repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts.

But Janet Muller, of Irish language advocacy group Pobal, is dissatisfied with the proposals, which she labelled as “full of holes”.

She told the News Letter: “We have only seen 13 pages of this draft agreement so we can only judge it based on the details that have been leaked to the public.

“The proposals contained in this deal strike me as weak and ill-advised.

“Worse than that, they are the sorts of proposals that are likely to increase tensions over the Irish language, rather than resolving the matter.”

Ms Muller said the mooted plans for the minority language do not create any rights for Irish speakers, which she described as a “fundamental issue”.

“Without the creation of rights, public bodies have no way of knowing what they will be required to do to as a baseline for meeting the needs of Irish speakers.”

Addressing the possible creation of an Irish language commissioner, Ms Muller said the job as outlined in the draft text would “effectively be two positions rolled into one”.

She added: “The description of the role in this document makes the commissioner into both a gamekeeper and a poacher, in that they would be expected to police the same schemes they are involved in setting up.

“The same sort of system was once in place in Wales and it quickly became apparent that it was bad practice and was subsequently changed.”

Ms Muller also expressed concerns that the Irish language would “remain in the hands of politicians”, adding: “From this draft it appears that it will be the first and deputy first ministers who will provide agreed guidance on Irish standards, not the commissioner.”

One of the items on Pobal’s wish list for an Irish language act is for all street signs and public buildings in Northern Ireland to have bilingual signage.

This aspect is not mentioned in the draft agreement, but Ms Muller said: “We know there are appendices which have not been included in these leaked papers.

“We have called on the politicians to release the full text and let us have a look at all the detail it contains.”

The 13-page document was leaked by journalist Eamonn Maille. The DUP has denied that a draft deal with Sinn Fein was in place.

More from News