Political news

Five Stormont parties back Irish language act as Adams warns there'll be no assembly without legislation

Alliance's Paula Bradshaw, Green leader Steven Agnew, People Before Profit's Gerry Carroll, SDLP MLA Nicola Mallon and Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams join Conradh na Gaeilge's Niall Comer and Ciaran Mac Giolla Bhein during an event in support of an Irish language act. Picture by Mal McCann

GERRY Adams has insisted there will be no restoration of devolution without a standalone Irish language act.

The Sinn Féin leader was speaking as five Stormont parties came together in Belfast to voice support for legislation to promote and protect Irish.

Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, the Greens and People Before Profit are backing the calls, with Irish language advocacy group Conradh na Gaelige saying 50 of the 90 MLAs now support proposed legislation – a majority in the assembly.

However, it was Mr Adams alone who drew criticism from Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann yesterday.

The North Antrim MLA said his party would not be giving the Sinn Féin leader a "blank cheque for discrimination against non-Irish speakers".

As the British and Irish governments seek to revive negotiations aimed at restoring the executive, Mr Adams insisted that progress on the Irish language was not about threatening unionists but respecting traditions.

But he warned that there would be no broader political progress without legislative recognition for Irish.

"Let's be very, very clear – there won't be an assembly without an acht na Gaeilge. The DUP know that, the governments know that," he said.

"I understand that there are elements within unionism who think that this is in some way threatening but it's a matter of whether we want this part of the island to embrace everyone.

"You don't have to agree with everyone but you do have to have a legislative basis for respect and that includes the Irish language act."

The SDLP's Nichola Mallon also said the Irish language was a critical issue for the restoration of devolution, while Green Party leader Steven Agnew said it wasn't a "demand of one party".

"It's an issue that is of importance to many across Northern Ireland," he said.

Conradh na Gaelige president Niall Comer said: "The message from today's event is very clear: there is widespread, cross-party, majority support for a stand-alone Irish language act.

"Given this majority, we now call on those who continue to oppose a stand-alone Irish language act to reflect on their position and to acknowledge that the time for change is now."

Despite speculation that the DUP has softened its stance on an Irish language act, Arlene Foster's party remains opposed to standalone legislation, tabling proposals during previous talks for a broader 'culture act' that would include measures promoting Ulster Scots.

Mr Swann accused Sinn Féin of putting an Irish language act ahead of health and education.

He claimed his party had fulfilled its obligations to Irish made under the Good Friday Agreement.

"We never made any commitments to an Irish language act – if Gerry Adams believes that others have made commitments in subsequent agreements, then he should take that up with them," he said.

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