Northern Ireland news

Westminster poised to progress Irish language legislation

Michelle O'Neill said Westminster Irish language legislation would include 'mechanisms preventing the DUP from blocking it'. Picture by Hugh Russell

MICHELLE O'Neill believes Westminster will legislate on Stormont's cultural package within weeks and that an Irish language commissioner with enforcement powers will be in place by the end of March.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader says the bill being brought forward by Brandon Lewis will include "mechanisms preventing the DUP from blocking it".

Notably, the deputy first minister has signalled that her party won't collapse the devolved institutions if the British government reneges on its June commitment, saying she is "not working on the basis of failure”.

The secretary of state's commitment to make good on the promise given to Sinn Féin in June comes against a background of a DUP threat to collapse the institutions over its concerns about the Northern Ireland protocol.

A spokesman for the British government said last night that it was "taking the necessary steps to introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows", while the DUP repeated its line that implementing New Decade New Approach "in a one-sided manner" in the absence of protections for the north's place in the UK internal market was "not a sustainable position".

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said last month that his party would pull the plug on Stormont at the end of October but continuing discussions between the UK and EU have enabled the DUP leader to stretch his deadline.

Ms O'Neill told The Irish News that she had been assured by the secretary of state in writing that Westminster would progress the cultural package once a "legislative window" could be secured.

"This can only be a matter of weeks away at this stage," she said.

The Sinn Féin deputy leader said the legislation would see an Irish language commissioner in place by the end of March 2022 and would include measures to ensure its provisions could not be vetoed by the DUP.

Ms O'Neill said she would "hold Brandon Lewis's feet to the fire" until the legislation was delivered.

Dr Pádraig Ó Tiarnaigh from Irish language advocacy group An Dream Dearg said that for the British government not to deliver on its commitment would leave its credibility "in further ruin".

"Any attempt to further delay this legislation must be resisted by Sinn Féin, who brokered this deal with the secretary of state in June, and also by the cross-party coalition both at Stormont and at Westminster who support the immediate introduction of Irish language legislation," he said.

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