Political news

Arlene Foster's claim of lack of community support for Irish language act branded 'nonsense'

Pobal director Janet Muller said Mrs Foster's remark was 'nonsense'

ARLENE Foster has been criticised for claiming that "few people... apart from the political activists" have told her they want an Irish language act.

The DUP last night refused to say whether the party leader was standing by the assertion, which two of the largest Irish language advocacy groups have dismissed.

Pobal director Janet Muller described the remark as "nonsense", while Conradh na Gaeilge president Niall Comer said the former first minister was "entirely incorrect".

Mrs Foster met several Irish language organisations last month, as well as travelling to Our Lady's Grammar School in Newry to meet staff and students.

She said she wanted to gain a better understanding of Irish by speaking to enthusiasts from a non-political background.

The DUP leader, who was criticised for likening Sinn Féin to a crocodile over its language act demands during the Stormont election campaign, said she was "uplifted" after her morning at Our Lady's.

But in a recent BBC interview, Mrs Foster claimed there was limited enthusiasm for an Irish language act.

On Inside Politics on May 5 she said: "I have to say I have had few people say to me, apart from the political activists, that they want to have an Irish language act."

Pobal director Janet Muller there had been three consultations on legislation over the last decade and "tens of thousands" of people had voiced their support for an act.

She said the Fermanagh MLA was wrong to claim only political activists were in favour of the move, which formed part of 2006's St Andrews Agreement.

"This is nonsense, as Pobal's recent delegation of Irish language groups to meet the DUP showed," she said.

"We made it clear to her that this is a community demand that grows from our day-to-day work across a whole range of areas."

Ms Muller said the meeting with the DUP leader had been "positive" but she hoped it would signal a change in the party's attitude to the Irish language.

"It is a matter of concern that Mrs Foster seems to be trying to minimise the demand for an acht na Gaeilge from Irish speakers," she said.

Niall Comer also said that during Conradh na Gaeilge's meeting with the DUP, he had stressed that the organisation "represents a significant proportion of Irish language speakers, very few of whom are political activists".

"This is a very surprising statement, given the content of the discussions at our meeting," he said.

"Our organisation has been promoting the Irish language since the 1800s. We are not political activists – most of us are volunteers."

When asked by The Irish News whether its leader was standing by her comment, the DUP declined to respond.

A statement from the party said Mrs Foster's meetings with Irish speakers had taken her to Scotland, Dublin and all across the north.

"It has involved people from Irish language lobby groups, community groups, journalists, lawyers, faith groups, teachers and many more – Mrs Foster has been inundated with requests for meetings," it said.

"People want to preserve the language but there are a range of ideas as to how this can be best achieved."

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