Foster urges ‘realism’ on timeline for Irish language legislation

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By David Young, PA

Advocates pressing for swift delivery of Irish language legislation in Northern Ireland must be realistic that it is not a key Stormont priority amid the pandemic, Arlene Foster has said.

The First Minister insisted she remained committed to delivering legislative protections for Irish speakers, as part of a broader cultural package that also included the Ulster Scots/British tradition.

But the DUP leader suggested the package may not be enacted in the current Assembly mandate as originally envisaged.

First Minister Arlene Foster.

Mrs Foster told her Assembly scrutiny committee that Covid-19 matters had “engulfed” her department in the last year, impacting timelines for delivering many of the commitments in the New Decade, New Approach deal.

“Our primary focus is on health recovery and economic recovery,” she said.

The First Minister urged people to look at the whole series of outstanding commitments in the agreement that restored powersharing, rather than just the Irish language.

“I can absolutely understand why some people would rather point to the bits that they want to see delivered, as opposed to the bits they don’t want to see delivered, but there’s a whole package in New Decade, New Approach in relation to what needs to be delivered,” she said.

Asked if her department still intended to introduce language legislation before next year’s Assembly election, she said: “There has to be a realistic conversation on what we can deliver before the end of this mandate and what we’ll need to carry over into the next mandate.

“But, make no mistake about it, I am not resiling from New Decade, New Approach.”

Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill.

Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the outstanding commitments in the deal needed to be delivered in as “speedy a way as we can”.

Ms O’Neill, who appeared with Mrs Foster during the virtual committee hearing, said the agreement on bringing forward Irish language protections was not up for renegotiation.

“I think we need to see delivery across the board and the public need to see the political leaders stand by what we signed up to,” she said.

“That’s what we all need to be focused on. The Irish Language Act you know isn’t up for negotiation or renegotiation, it was agreed as part of the package, so I want to see the whole package delivered upon in as speedy a way as we can.

“We were obviously disrupted somewhat because of Covid but I think it’s important that we get back to dealing with all the commitments that were made.”

 

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