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Arlene Foster claims Sinn Féin aims to 'humiliate unionists' with Irish language act demand

Arlene Foster said republicans were seeking to 'humiliate unionists' by seeking an Irish language act. Picture by Liam McBurney/PA Wire

SINN Féin has urged Arlene Foster "make her mind up on the Irish language" after the former first minister claimed republicans were seeking to humiliate unionists.

Just over two weeks ago, Mrs Foster said her party had nothing to fear from the Irish language but it appears she still remains doggedly opposed to standalone legislation mirroring that which in Britain protects Welsh and Scots Gaelic.

The DUP leader claimed Sinn Féin's demand for a standalone Irish language act was a "way to humiliate unionists" and those who "believe in a British way of life".

The comments came as the two parties are expected to continue talking at Stormont in a bid to break the eight-month political deadlock.

While there is an expectation that negotiations will intensify in the coming weeks, there has yet to be any indication from the two governments that they plan to convene more formal discussions.

Mrs Foster said "significant issues" remained between the two parties.

She said the DUP had failed to be convinced of the need for a standalone Irish language act.

The former first minister told the BBC that the issue had become "totemic" to republicans.

"Sinn Féin has decided to ringfence a free-standing Irish language act in a way that frankly makes it impossible for those who want to move forward but see this is just being used as a way to humiliate unionists and those of us who believe in a British way of life," she said.

The DUP also rejected the notion that the threat to cut MLAs' salaries would be an incentive for striking a deal.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire recently warned that he would consider stopping assembly members' pay if the deadlock cannot be broken.

Mrs Foster said pay could not be used as an incentive.

"It is quite offensive, I have to say, to those of us who have stood for election, who want to get on with the job of government, that people think if they make a threat of pay reduction that it will act as some sort of incentive," she said.

In response to the secretary of state's recent claim that the north was on a "glide path" towards direct rule, Mrs Foster said the DUP did not want the region ruled from Whitehall but warned that "there needs to be an end point" to the negotiations.

Former Sinn Féin education minister John O'Dowd said previous agreements needed to be implemented if the executive was to be restored on a "sustainable basis".

"Arlene Foster also needs to make her mind up on the Irish language," he said.

"She has said no one has anything to fear from the Irish language and then claims that an act would be a humiliation for unionists – that's simply preposterous."

Meanwhile, a weekend meeting of the Ulster Unionist Councillors' Association unanimously passed a motion endorsing its party leader's position on an Irish language act.

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