Northern Ireland news

Brandon Lewis calls for smooth Stormont leadership transition as he pledges to explore 'all options' on Irish language legislation

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis has said he will explore “all the options available” to introduce Irish language laws in the region.. Picture by Mark Marlow/PA Wire

BRANDON Lewis last night urged the DUP and Sinn Féin to ensure a smooth leadership transition at Stormont as he pledged to explore "all the options available" to introduce Irish language legislation.

He was speaking amid an ongoing standoff over the implementation of commitments made in the deal that saw devolution restored last January.

Sinn Féin has said it will not enable the appointment of Paul Givan as first minister without guarantees on Irish language legislation contained in New Decade New Approach.

After failing to secure the necessary commitments from the DUP, Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald called on the British government to legislate for the Irish language through Westminster.

Mrs McDonald said the British government had offered to intervene weeks ago but that her party declined.

The SDLP meanwhile is hoping to amend Westminster legislation that it says will pave the way for Irish language protections and the wider cultural package agreed under New Decade New Approach.

Party leader Colum Eastwood has been working with parliamentary drafters over recent weeks on a series of amendments to the Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill, following its second readings on June 22.

DUP MP Sammy Wilson yesterday warned the British government that it "must not interfere in devolved issues at the behest of Sinn Féin".

Last night Mr Lewis said he would explore "all the options available" to introduce Irish language legislation.

Following meetings with Mrs McDonald on Monday and Stormont's other main parties yesterday, he said it was "vital" that commitments on culture and language agreed last year were honoured.

"This includes the creation of an Ulster Scots British commissioner, an Irish language commissioner and an office of identity and cultural expression for everybody in Northern Ireland," he said.

"I want to drive real progress on these issues for all of the people of Northern Ireland and I'll continue to engage closely with all parties to that end, exploring all the options available.

Mr Lewis's remarks came as MLAs voted for the assembly to adopt a simultaneous translation service for Irish and Ulster Scots.

The motion carried by 58 votes to 27, with DUP MLAs and Jim Allister opposing. It had been reported earlier in the day that Edwin Poots' proposal for his party to abstain was defeated by a vote of the DUP's assembly group.

Meanwhile, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said he believes a united Ireland can be achieved in his lifetime.

In his opening address to his party's árd fheis last night, the Fine Gael leader said unification is a “legitimate political aspiration”.

He said the abolition the border should be part of his party’s “mission” and called on members to aspire to achieving this goal.

“I believe in the unification of our island and I believe it can happen in my lifetime,” Mr Varadkar said.

He also called for Fine Gael branches to be established in the north.

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