Political news

Irish language act referendum should be held this summer, say three former unionist Good Friday Agreement negotiators

A pro-Irish language act protest at Parliament Buildings last year. Picture by Mal McCann

A referendum on an Irish language act should be held this summer, three former Good Friday Agreement negotiators have said.

Legalising same-sex marriage and relaxing the abortion laws should also be put to the electorate, the unionist trio added.

Official protection for Irish is one of the main sticking points in forming a new devolved government and sharp political differences also exist over gay marriage and the regime surrounding pregnancy terminations.

Former and retired Ulster Unionists David McNarry, Michael McGimpsey and David Campbell launched their proposal to break the deadlock today.

They said: "We firmly believe that inclusive devolution represents the best means of providing peace and stability to Northern Ireland, and stable devolved government can maximise economic and social benefits to all our citizens.

"We are dismayed that the current impasse appears to be beyond resolving by the two main parties in the Assembly."

They said their referendum suggestion may break the current deadlock, and if agreed, could enable the immediate formation of a ministerial Executive.

Suggested questions for a referendum in May or June included:

  • Should Northern Ireland have a stand-alone Irish language act ?
  • Should couples of the same gender be permitted a civil marriage in Northern Ireland ?
  • Should Northern Ireland law be amended to permit an abortion where there is a diagnosis in pregnancy that the foetus suffers from a lethal abnormality?
  • Should Northern Ireland law be amended to permit an abortion where a woman has become pregnant as a result of sexual crime including rape or incest?

Mr McNarry left the Ulster Unionists to join Ukip and is its former leader in Northern Ireland. He was a senior member of the UUP for much of his political career and served as a senior Stormont Assembly member.

Mr Campbell is a former UUP chairman.

Mr McGimpsey is a former Ulster Unionist health minister at Stormont.

They played a significant role in the negotiations resulting in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement and in the establishment and operation of the first periods of devolution.

They said if an Executive was formed, it could use draft legislation to form the basis for the question on the Irish language.

If agreement to return to government was impossible the principle of an act could be put to a vote, they added.

There would be no need to delay devolution pending the outcomes.

They added: "None of us have electoral ambitions and we represent no parties in making this proposal.

"We offer it as a possible solution in good faith and hope it is accepted as such."

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