Aontú chief calls on Sinn Féin to reactivate Stormont
Peadar Tóibín urges dominant nationalist party to waive Irish language act objections
Peadar Tóibín: ‘You cannot be a left-wing political party and allow for your communities to slide into poverty and sit by idly by.’
Aontú leader Peadar Tóibín has challenged the wisdom of a Sinn Féin demand that an Irish language act must first be conceded by the DUP before the party would agree to reinstatement of the Northern Executive and Assembly.
Mr Tóibín was speaking in Belfast on Tuesday when he launched the Aontú Westminster general election manifesto.
Aontú which campaigns centrally on being anti-abortion, and seeking Irish unity and economic justice, is standing seven candidates in Foyle, East Derry, West Tyrone, South Down, West Belfast, South Belfast and Newry and Armagh.
The election is being held against the backdrop of a crisis in the Northern Ireland health service. At present there are 300,000 people on waiting lists and 10,000 outpatient appointments and surgeries cancelled in Belfast due to industrial action by nurses and other hospital workers.
Asked was Sinn Féin right to stay out of Stormont until it had a guaranteed Irish language act – one of its key demands – Mr Tóibín replied that such an act must be legislated for. But he then added there was shock “in many ways that the Irish language is being used to hold so many other really important issues hostage”.
Mr Tóibín said “there are bread and butter, life and death concerns that are consuming the people of the North of Ireland . . . it is wrong to stop developments or progress on those issues because of the Irish language act.”
The Aontú leader added that “you cannot be a left-wing political party and allow for your communities to slide into poverty and sit by idly by. We need to make sure that we have a functioning democratic Assembly, where all of these issues can be fixed. So we’re not saying that any one issue should mean the Assembly doesn’t work.”
When asked was he saying Sinn Féin should go back into the Assembly and resolve the Irish language there he replied: “I’m saying to you that if seven people are dying from heroin overdoses in 10 days, if there are 20,000 people homeless, if there are 36,000 food parcels happening on an annual basis in the North of Ireland [then] I think the elected representatives . . . should get back to work and fix those issues.”
Monica Digney, a former Sinn Féin councillor and Aontú’s candidate in West Belfast, said she had been canvassing in the constituency which includes a Gaeltacht Quarter and no one had raised the issue of the Irish language.
She also said that “100 per cent” there must be an Irish language act. But she said the dominant issues people are talking to her about are “eating and heating matters”, mental and other health concerns, “dilapidated” services, jobs and homes.
A call to politicians
Ms Digney said the matter could be resolved at Stormont while all other pressing matters were addressed.
Mr Tóibín said Aontú is considering taking a judicial review to the High Court in Belfast to compel Northern Secretary Julian Smith to call a referendum on a united Ireland.
“I believe that there will be a Border poll soon. I believe that the environment exists currently to trigger a Border poll,” he said.
Mr Tóibín added that Aontú would not take seats in the House of Commons but that he was seeking to introduce legislation in Leinster House that would give Northern Ireland elected representatives speaking and voting rights in the Dáil.
He added that some people tried to “pigeonhole” Aontú as being anti-abortion and while the issue is a “very important element to who we are” the party is bigger than that.
“The right to life doesn’t end once a child is born,” said Mr Tóibín. “It’s a right to life from the cradle to the grave.”