Northern Ireland news

Peter Robinson says unionist fears about Acht na Gaelige 'could have been addressed'

Peter Robinson said he 'couldn't care less about the Irish language'. Picture by Queen's University Belfast/PA Wire

FORMER DUP leader Peter Robinson believes unionist fears about an Irish language act would have been addressed had the details of the Stormont deal that collapsed in February been made public beforehand.

He described an Acht na Gaeilge as a "such a small issue" compared with devolving policing or justice and agreeing the conditions in 2007 for the establishment of the DUP and Sinn Féin-led executive.

Speaking on Thursday at the Methodist Centre at Knock in east Belfast, the former first minster said that when the negotiations aimed at restoring devolution collapsed, some unionists had incorrect assertions and beliefs that there would be quotas for Irish speakers joining the civil service and Irish streets signs everywhere.

"I couldn't care less about the Irish language," he said.

"Let them speak it until they are green, white and orange in the face, as long as it doesn't encroach on me."

The former East Belfast MP said in order to maintain the union it was "necessary for us to have a stable government in Northern Ireland", and that political parties needed to be careful not to be led by "the most vociferous voices in your party".

Mr Robinson said he believed power-sharing could be restored – but that in the meantime direct rule should be imposed, according to reports on eamonnmallie.com.

In a message to the current DUP and Sinn Féin leaderships, he noted how "you don't get agreements without compromises".

Remarking on the potential for a united Ireland, he recalled how a former taoiseach told him that people in the Republic were not "chomping" for unity.

Mr Robinson also spoke about his relationship with the late Martin McGuinness.

"To operate you had to know what problems were being faced in each other's party," he said.

"I told him things I didn't tell others, he did the same and neither of us betrayed the other's trust."

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