Arlene Foster reveals plans to meet Gaeilgeoirí following government ultimatum to reach devolution deal

Arlene Foster said she would meet Irish language supporters over the coming days. Picture by Hugh Russell

ARLENE Foster has said she wants to "respect and better understand" the Irish language and revealed plans to meet Gaeilgeoirí over the coming days.

The DUP leader said she recognised that people want to be facilitated in speaking Irish but it "needs to be seen in the context of the whole cultural respect and affirmation of identity in Northern Ireland".

She was speaking as Stormont's parties were given one last chance to resolve their differences before the north faces a fresh election or direct rule.

Secretary of State James Brokenshire issued the ultimatum as he suspended the latest phase of the post-election negotiations until after Easter.

The parties are expected to meet next week ahead of more formal engagement with the two governments beginning on Monday April 24.

Legacy and an Irish language act remain the main stumbling blocks in the talks, where it is understood the DUP has proposed more wide-ranging language measures that would include Ulster-Scots.

During the election campaign, Mrs Foster insisted she would not agree to Sinn Féin demands for an Irish language act and appeared to describe her former government partners as "crocodiles".

She said yesterday: “We do want to respect and indeed better understand the language and culture which we are not a part of and, to that end, over the next short period of time, I do intend to listen and to engage with those from the Gaelic/Irish background, those without party political baggage or indeed demands, people who genuinely love the Irish language and don’t want to use it as a political weapon."

The former first minister added: "We do recognise that there are people who love the language, who want to speak the language and be facilitated in that respect, but we also say that in respect of Ulster Scots and Orange and British identity that there needs to be respect held for those cultures as well."

Sinn Fein president Gerry Adams repeated his view yesterday that a deal rested on the DUP agreeing to a "rights-based" issues, including language rights and same-sex marriage.

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