Political crisis looms as SF accuses Poots of ‘bad faith’ on Irish Language Act

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DUP leader Edwin Poots

By Jonathan McCambridge, PA

Sinn Fein has accused DUP leader Edwin Poots of acting in “bad faith”, and said that the nominations of a first minister and deputy first minister at Stormont this week have to be accompanied by the progression of Irish language legislation.

Sinn Fein’s conclusion that they “do not believe” Mr Poots will deliver on the Irish Language Act could spark a political crisis at Stormont.

When Arlene Foster formally resigns as First Minister on Monday, deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill is automatically removed from her post as well – as the joint office can only function if both positions are filled.

Both parties will then need to re-nominate their respective first and deputy first ministers within seven days.

If one of the parties declines to re-nominate, or if either nomination fails to gain sufficient Assembly support, then a functioning Executive cannot be formed and a snap election will become likely.

It is understood Sinn Fein had been seeking firm guarantees from Mr Poots on issues such as Irish language as a prerequisite for its engagement in the nomination process.

Michelle O'Neill will automatically be removed from the position of Deputy First Minister when Arlene Foster officially steps down as First Minister

It is understood Sinn Fein had been seeking firm guarantees from Mr Poots on issues such as Irish language as a prerequisite for its engagement in the nomination process.

A senior Sinn Fein source told the PA news agency: “Sinn Fein has scoped out Edwin Poots and the DUP, having had a series of engagements where we’ve talked and listened up until yesterday.

“Our assessment is that he is being disingenuous by saying publicly that he will honour commitments agreed in NDNA (New Decade, New Approach).

“We believe they are acting in bad faith. We do not believe they will deliver on the Irish Language Act.

“Our position is that the nomination for first minister and deputy first minister has to be accompanied by legislation on the Irish language.”

Mr Poots has previously pledged to implement Irish language legislation at Stormont as quickly as possible.

The new DUP leader said last week he wished to “expedite” the rollout of all outstanding aspects of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal that re-established powersharing in 2020.

The cultural elements of NDNA, include protections for Irish and Ulster Scots, would have to be delivered in the form of amendments to the 1998 Northern Ireland Act.

Sinn Fein wants those legislative changes passed before the end of the current Assembly mandate next spring.

It is understood the party wants to see progression of the amendments introduced in tandem with the process of nominations for first and deputy first minister.

DUP nominee for First Minister Paul Givan

In response, the DUP has insisted it “stands resolute” in its determination to respect powersharing in Northern Ireland.

After Sinn Fein said it did not believe DUP leader Edwin Poots would deliver on an Irish Language Act, potentially sparking a Stormont political crisis, the DUP responded that: “No-one would forgive Sinn Fein for playing fast and loose with people’s lives in Northern Ireland.”

A spokesman added: “The DUP leadership stands resolute to enter government, respect powersharing and get on with the job.

“It is up to others to follow.”

“We remain committed to the New Decade, New Approach agreement and want to see it implemented in all its parts.”

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