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Donaldson threat to bring down Stormont over Irish language legislation branded 'madness'

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson

SIR Jeffrey Donaldson's latest threat to collapse the institutions if Westminster legislates for the Irish language was last night described as "madness".

The DUP leader fired yet another warning shot over Stormont's sustainability after The Irish News yesterday revealed that the the long-awaited Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill looks set to become law within weeks.

The legislation, based on the cultural package agreed as part of the New Decade New Approach deal two years ago, is expected to be laid before MPs and peers before the end of this month.

British government officials have provided Stormont's main parties with what is thought to be a final briefing on the bill, while they are intensifying efforts to secure a window in the Westminster schedule.

The bill includes measures that would see the creation of commissioners for both the Irish language and Ulster Scots, as well as the establishment of an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression. It will also see the repeal of a 280-year-old law which specifies that all proceedings in the north’s courts must be in English.

But Sir Jeffrey last night said that the Stormont institutions are "at risk" if the British government presses ahead with the plans.

The Lagan Valley MP told The Irish News that all elements of New Decade New Approach "should be implemented without cherry picking".

"Pressing ahead in some areas whilst ignoring others only serves to undermine devolution," he said.

"This is particularly the case when the government is seeking to legislate on devolved matters whilst ignoring their own clear commitment to introduce legislation to restore Northern Ireland's place within the UK internal market."

He warned Secretary of State Brandon Lewis about implementing the January 2020 deal that saw Stormont restored "in an unbalanced way".

"He will be making a choice that undermines devolution and puts the stability of the political institutions at risk," Sir Jeffrey said.

Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O'Neill said reports that legislation would be this month were "welcome" but said a date for the bill's introduction at Westminster was "urgently required".

“There is an onus on Brandon Lewis to bring the legislation forward for introduction in this parliamentary session now that Westminster has returned from Christmas recess," she said.

SDLP leader Colum Eastwood said Sir Jeffrey was "under pressure from his party" but that he could not threaten the institutions on an almost daily basis.

"This madness needs to stop," he said.

“The DUP agreed the cultural package in NDNA, they entered government on the basis of that commitment. To now threaten to walk out because your commitment is being honoured is ridiculous and it’s not a position that any serious politician can legitimately hold."

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