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Irish language act a 'political necessity' but Arlene Foster's resgination is not, Alliance MLA says

The Alliance Party's Stephen Farry. Picture by Liam McBurney, Press Association

A stand-alone Irish language act is a "political necessity", a senior Alliance MLA has said.

Sinn Féin's northern leader Michelle O'Neill has said a power-sharing deal can only be made if the DUP agrees to an Irish language act and the introduction of same-sex marriage - two issues supported by the Alliance.

However, neither Alliance nor the Ulster Unionists backed Sinn Féin's insistence that DUP leader Arlene Foster can only return as first minister once an inquiry into the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scandal is completed.

Alliance MLA Stephen Farry said he did not think Sinn Féin's stance on Mrs Foster was a "legitimate red-line issue".

He said the Alliance had called on her to stand down after the RHI scandal broke but this "was in the context of a functioning executive".

"We believe this is about policies rather than personal issues," he said. "This crisis is bigger than one individual."

Mr Farry said a stand-alone Irish language act was "the right thing to do and it's a political necessity now".

"Alongside that we would support further legislation looking at other language acts," he said. "We see that as parallel legislation and not an all-encompassing act."

Mr Farry said an Irish language act which "must be proportionate and realistic" cannot "be something that's squeezed through the assembly" and must be progressed through an Executive bill, rather than a private member's bill.

He said the Alliance fully supports same-sex marriage in the north - which has been blocked by the DUP through the controversial petition of concern mechanism.

"The way to do this is through reform of the petition of concern," he said.

Mr Farry said his party was also concerned about the role of a 'consultative committee' of DUP and Tory MPs which is earmarking where the £1 billion agreed as part of a deal between the parties will be spent.

He said if power-sharing were restored, the committee should not be able to influence devolved issues.

"If there was a parallel decision-making process that could cause enormous difficulties politically," he said.

Ulster Unionist Tom Elliott said no pre-conditions for the power-sharing talks should be set.

"Our position has consistently been that there should be no red lines. If that's going to happen then what's the point of negotiations?" he said.

"We feel that they (Sinn Féin) are making a very, very weak case regarding these issues. If they're more important than people getting a proper healthcare system or children getting a proper education then we don't accept that."

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