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Anger as Bertie Ahern says 'never prescripted' what role Irish language would have after GFA

Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern
Seanin Graham

A ROW has broken out over comments made by Bertie Ahern about an Irish language act after the former Taoiseach claimed it was never "set in stone" by the Good Friday Agreement.

Mr Ahern, who helped secure the 1998 agreement, said while it was understood the Irish language "would play a key role", it was never made clear what it was going to be.

Irish language advocacy group Pobal accused him of being "unhelpful" - and insisted that a "clear commitment" was given on an act being implemented following the signing of the St Andrews Agreement in 2006.

The DUP has repeatedly said that although it signed up to St Andrews, it never committed to the establishment of an Irish language act - a key demand of Sinn Féin if is to go back into government with the party.

Pobal director Janet Muller claimed the British government had given its support but "reneged on it".

She added that Mr Ahern's comments didn't reflect the "actual written text" of the two agreements.

Speaking to Radio Ulster's The Nolan Show, the ex-Taoiseach warned that politicians were at risk of repeating past mistakes if they didn't return to Stormont.

He said "going back to the small print in 1998 is not what people should be doing" but accepted that people's identities should be protected.

Referring to the Good Friday Agreement, he said: "There was an understanding Irish language would play a key role but we never anywhere prescripted or wrote out what that was going to be and I don't think it happened in any subsequent agreements anywhere.

"What was not agreed was that we would start putting Irish language signs down the Shankill.

"Of course the Irish language should be treated with equality, as too should Ulster Scots if that is important to the unionist people, the same with the legacy of the past. These are important but people have to look at it going forward not backwards."

He added: "The mindset should be to make this workable - to do their level best before the anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement.

"If that fails again then the east/west situation has to click in and the Dublin and London governments have to sit down and work a way forward."

Ms Muller said the two sets of legislation not only contained "binding commitments" to adopt a strategy for Irish and Ulster Scots, but they pledged to take "resolute action" to promote Irish.

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