Northern Ireland news

Third time lucky as Irish language group finally meet Julian Smith

Representatives of Conradh na Gaeilge at Hillsborough on Sunday for a meeting with the Secretary of State Julian Smith.

The Secretary of State Julian Smith has held a meeting with Irish language activists as talks to restore devolution enter the final week before a deadline to call an election is reached.

Mr Smith had agreed to meet Irish language lobby group Conradh na Gaeilge in mid December.

Two previous meetings were cancelled at short notice, before Mr Smith finally met the group at Hillsborough yesterday afternoon.

Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh said the organisation "welcomed the opportunity" to meet with the secretary of state, adding that they emphasised the need for an Irish language Act, as promised in the St Andrews Agreement.

Mr Ó Tiarnaigh said: "we reminded Secretary of State Smith of his duties, as one of those co-guarantors, to ensure full implementation of those commitments.

"We delivered the same message to An Tánaiste before Christmas in Dublin.

"We reimpressed upon Mr Smith the importance of effective legislation that can bring around meaningful change for those who wish to use the language.

"This new legislation must be drafted, as the St Andrew's Agreement compels, from the language legislation in Wales and in the south.

"That is what the two governments and the parties must deliver with an Irish Language Act.

"Speakers of Irish, be they speakers using the language in their home, in their schools or in the community, can no longer be treated as second class citizens", he added.

The Secretary of State has previously said if no deal is reached he will call an assembly election on January 13, when legislation postponing an election is due to expire.

However, DUP MP Gregory Campbell said his party would not be pressured into a deal on a language act.

Mr Campbell said the deadline means there "will be attempts to use it as leverage to get any type of deal over the line as opposed to detailed consideration in order that a good deal is achieved".

"Whether it is one party making unacceptable demands or other parties standing side by side to accept that the unreasonable demand is met, will make no difference to us.

"Where the Irish language has a perfectly acceptable place in Northern Ireland society and is resourced appropriately, as it already is, there will not be a problem or opposition from the DUP or wider Unionism, where there is an unacceptable and unreasonable demand to elevate it above all other minority languages, whether it is SF, other parties or HM Government saying we will have to yield on this issue as it is preventing devolution returning, we will not do so", Mr Campbell said.

"Let us all take this week to see what is doable, negotiate a balanced set of proposals and get it done instead of grandstanding in the hope of gaining a one sided victory", he added.

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