Irish language groups reject unionist 'culture act' proposal

Janet Muller said there was no widespread desire for measures to promote Ulster Scots. Picture by Niall Carson/PA Wire

THE two main Irish language lobby groups say they are opposed to the notion of a composite 'culture act' that would include Ulster Scots.

Pobal and Conradh na Gaeilge believe the DUP proposal for joint legislation would undermine efforts to promote and protect Irish.

Conradh na Gaeilge advocacy manager Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin described a composite act tabled during the recent Stormont negotiations as a "cynical attempt" by Arlene Foster's party to water down an acht na gaeilge, while Pobal director Janet Muller said the inclusion of Ulster Scots would make a "laughing stock" of the legislation.

Notably, the two Irish language organisations differ on how they view the prospects of securing a standalone Irish language act in the near future.

Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin said Conradh na Gaeilge was "reasonably confident" that measures would be put in place, citing majority support in the assembly.

However, Ms Muller said there was "nothing that would give us cause for optimism" in the Stormont talks.

Both groups are united in their rejection of a 'culture act' that would have provisions for Ulster Scots running alongside those for the Irish language.

Ms Muller said she did not believe there was a widespread desire for measures to safeguard Ulster Scots, but calls for a culture act were a "recognition by the DUP here should be legislation" for Irish.

"In the north, I'm not aware of any serious call for an act for Ulster Scots or an act for culture," she said.

"Legislation is a very specific thing and you would make it a bit of laughing stock if you start throwing in all sorts. It's a bit like getting legislation to protect a disadvantaged group and including the groups that have all the privileges and advantages as well - it doesn't make sense."

Ms Muller added that only international pressure would break the deadlock at Stormont and enable an acht na gaeilge to be put in place.

Mr Mac Giolla Bhéin also said he could not envisage joint legislation working successfully "based solely on linguistic terms".

"If you follow the advice of the United Nations and Council of Europe, who work in areas where you have a number of minority languages competing with each other, they would always strongly recommend that you have legislation tailored to a particular language," he said.

"Trying to put them together does a disservice to both the stronger and the weaker language."

The Conradh na Gaeilge officer said if there was serious desire for legislation to protect Ulster Scots then supporters needed to engage and consult with the community to find out exactly what was needed.

"To be honest I just see it as a cynical attempt by the DUP to mitigate an Irish language act," he said.

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