Political news

Linda Ervine 'sad' at Arlene Foster's comments on Irish language act

Linda Ervine has described Arlene Foster's dismissal of an Irish Language Act as "sad". Picture by Mal McCann
John Monaghan

A SISTER-IN-LAW of former loyalist leader David Ervine described Arlene Foster's remarks about an Irish language act as "sad".

The DUP leader yesterday rejected calls for legislation, telling a party election event in Lurgan: "If you feed a crocodile, it will keep coming back for more."

Linda Ervine, who is the Irish language officer at the East Belfast Mission and prominent in efforts to revive interest in the language in unionist areas, said she "doesn't know why we have to have a battle".

"It would be better if we had a bit of dialogue rather than having a battle. It is just sad," she said.

"I think an Irish language act would take it away from party politics. We could get away from the politicisation of it, which is an easy way to dismiss the language and people's rights.

"It doesn't have to be like this. Surely people can be respectful and have dialogue and accommodate others."

Mrs Ervine praised Alliance leader Naomi Long, who received criticism after posting an Irish language election poster on her Facebook page, saying "it would be good if we could see other parties embracing it.

Ms Long tweeted in response to Arlene Foster's speech: "Time to quit the pre-match trash talk & act like leaders: show respect; stop being divisive; and keep your promises."

POBAL, an Irish language umbrella group, has said there should be no return to power-sharing at Stormont without an Irish language act and last night described Mrs Foster's comments as "deplorable".

Similar legislation has been enacted in Scotland and Wales and would ensure use of Irish is facilitated by public bodies, including in courts and assembly debates as well as in government documents.

Director Janet Muller said: "Sadly, Irish speakers have learned to have very low expectations of DUP politicians, but these are entirely inappropriate comments from the leader of a political party, even in the artificial atmosphere of an election campaign.

"The 2011 census shows 10.65 per cent of the population of the north has knowledge of Irish. It is time that our language rights were recognised and protected from this kind of sectarian politicking."

Mrs Foster suggested yesterday there was a better argument for a Polish language act because there are more Polish speakers.

Just over 1 per cent of respondents to the 2011 Census identified Polish as their main language compared to 0.24 per cent for Irish.

However, 3.74 per cent said they could read, write, speak or understand Irish and more than 10 per cent said they had some knowledge of the language.

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