Leading article

Editorial: Irish language act commitment must be honoured

The British government's tendency to wriggle out of its commitments is in the spotlight once again.

Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has yet to honour his June pledge to introduce cultural legislation at Westminster by the end of this month, if Stormont had not already done so under the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) commitment. The promised legislation includes an Irish language act.

With only four days left to the agreed deadline, appropriate legislation has yet to be tabled in the Commons.

Support for it was clearly demonstrated this week by MPs representing Sinn Féin, the SDLP, Alliance, Scottish and Welsh nationalists and the British Labour Party.

The president of Conradh na Gaeilge, Dr Niall Comer, has pointed out that the legislation has already been agreed, suggesting that there is no technical reason why it cannot be laid before parliament.

One unlikely excuse for the delay is that it represents an oversight by Mr Lewis. A more probable explanation suggests that it is a political attempt to head off the DUP's threat to leave Stormont, should Irish language legislation be introduced.

DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said that if Westminster passes an Irish language act before the Northern Ireland Protocol is resolved to his party's satisfaction, then he would collapse Stormont and force an election.

Since the Protocol is unlikely to be resolved within the next four days, that leaves Mr Lewis in a difficult position. However, it is a difficulty of his own making, for two reasons.

Westminster might have moved more quickly with legislation preventing Stormont's collapse should one of the two main parties walk out. It has now passed through the Commons, but requires approval in the Lords and royal assent.

An earlier tabling of the legislation would have neutered the DUP's threat.

Secondly, Mr Lewis was aware of the DUP's ultimatum when he agreed to introduce Irish language legislation. If he somehow hoped that Stormont would pass an appropriate law in the meantime, he has displayed a remarkable misunderstanding of the DUP's opposition to the Irish language.

We can only assume that he agreed to Westminster legislation in the hope that something might turn up to prevent him from having to do so.

Since nothing is likely to turn up between now and Sunday, Mr Lewis has no choice but to honour his pledge. Nothing less will do.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access

Leading article