Northern Ireland news

SDLP pledges Westminster bid to pass Irish language laws amid Stormont stalemate

Irish language activists held an event at Stormont several weeks ago. Picture by Mal McCann.
David Young, PA

The SDLP has vowed to launch a bid to legislate on Irish language at Westminster if Sinn Féin and the DUP fail to move the law changes at Stormont.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said his party would seek to amend a Bill related to Northern Ireland that is currently making its way through the House of Commons to introduce the protections for Irish speakers.

Mr Eastwood said he had been working with parliamentary drafters to craft the potential amendments to the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill.

He said he would table those amendments if the current impasse between the DUP and Sinn Féin on introducing legislation at Stormont was not resolved.

The Westminster Bill relates to undertakings the UK Government made in the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal, such as extending the time period within which a snap election must be called if devolution collapses again.

Mr Eastwood signalled an intent to use the Bill as a vehicle to introduce the cultural aspects of the NDNA deal, including the legislative protections for Irish and Ulster Scots.

The Bill has already passed its first stage at Westminster and will have its second reading on June 22.

If it passes that stage, MPs then have an opportunity to table amendments.

Foyle MP Mr Eastwood said he and his SDLP colleague, South Belfast MP Claire Hanna, were ready to table amendments if required.

There is no guarantee the amendments would be selected for consideration.

Mr Eastwood criticised the stand-off on Irish language at a time when Northern Ireland was facing major issues, such as spiralling waiting lists and problems allocating secondary school places to transferring primary pupils.

“It is a disgrace, in those circumstances, that Sinn Féin and the DUP are indulging themselves in a sham fight and threatening to collapse government,” he said.

“They have learned nothing from the last time they brought us to the brink. Fourteen years leading government and these parties have clearly demonstrated that they are incapable of delivering on their commitments.

“The SDLP has been working with parliamentary drafters to craft amendments that will deliver the NDNA cultural package for weeks.

“If the DUP and Sinn Féin cannot find a way to deliver the Irish language and other cultural commitments that they made last year, then we will step up, step in and seek to table amendments to legislation due at Westminster next week.

“The SDLP stands by the promises we make.

“We are committed to tackling the waiting list crisis, the scandal in education and the coming economic challenge. It’s time for parties to wise up and grow up. We will get on with the job we were elected to do.”

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