Arlene Foster ‘will not accept’ standalone Irish language Act

‘Scene is now set’ for referendum on Irish unity, says Mary-Lou McDonald

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

DUP leader Arlene Foster. Photograph: Neil Hall/Reuters

 

The DUP leader Arlene Foster has insisted her party will not sign up for a standalone Irish language Act in any new set of negotiations aimed at restoring Northern Ireland’s powersharing administration.

On Wednesday both Ms Foster and the Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald also appeared less than enthusiastic about Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s expectation that Stormont talks would resume in the autumn.

And while last February, before those talks collapsed, the DUP and Sinn Féin were reported to have got as far as a compromise that would have delivered Irish language legislation, Ms Foster on Wednesday insisted there would be no free-standing Irish language Act.

Asked were there any circumstances in which she would support a “standalone” Irish language Act, Ms Foster replied: “No, there is not.”

Further asked on BBC Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme was DUP opposition to such an act non-negotiable she added: “It is non-negotiable, and that has been told to Sinn Féin on a number of occasions.”

In February, several well-placed sources said the DUP and Sinn Féin had agreed a compromise on the key issue of language which would have seen three acts - an Irish Language Act, an Ulster-Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act - being introduced in a restored Assembly.

Ms Foster was reminded that Sinn Féin saw the February “draft deal” as the bottom line for resumed talks. Asked could she accept that position, she replied: “No, absolutely not. It was not a sensible or balanced deal back in February, so I can’t see how it would be a sensible or balanced deal today.”

On Tuesday Mr Varadkar spoke of the possibility of talks resuming in October. Ms Foster however expressed some scepticism.

“As I understand it there isn’t a proposal at the moment. These are just comments made by the Irish Government, ” she said.

She also accused the Government of attempting to interfere in Strand 1 issues - matters internal to Northern Ireland - in the talks that broke down in February.

The DUP leader also was asked about former DUP leader Peter Robinson’s comments in Glenties last week that while he did not foresee a united Ireland, people should prepare for that possibility.

‘Pointless’

Ms Foster said: “There is absolutely no point in preparing for a united Ireland because it is simply not going to happen. Such work would be ludicrous, such work would be pointless.”

She was “much more concerned” that there was no functioning Northern Executive. “Sinn Féin is stopping an Executive from coming back,” she said.

“They are engaged in a triple boycott. They don’t go Westminster, they don’t go to the Assembly, and they don’t go to the Executive. Those are the people stopping progress in Northern Ireland. ”

On the same programme, Sinn Féin president Ms McDonald rejected a claim by Ms Foster that she had performed a U-turn on her position on a Border poll on a united Ireland.

On Monday Ms McDonald told the Press Association that the question of a Border poll should be put to one side until the “dangers” posed by Brexit were mitigated.

On Tuesday, Ms McDonald said there would have to be a Border referendum if the UK crashed out of the EU next year without an agreement.

Ms McDonald on Wednesday said she had not reversed her position. “There is no doubt that the scene is now set for a referendum on unity. It is really now a matter of when,” she said.

“My comments were not about delaying a poll. I have been saying very clearly and I have said it consistently as we all have that we want the best debate, an inclusive debate, an informed debate, a respectful debate,” she said.

“I want a Border poll and I want it to happen soon.”

On the prospects of resumed talks as suggested by Mr Varadkar, Ms McDonald accused the DUP of going “into hiding at Westminster” and working to support “Theresa May’s Brexit agenda”.

“You can talk from here to eternity, what we need is delivery of agreements,” said Ms McDonald.

“We need delivery of people’s rights. I think that constructive politics, grown-up politics, responsible politics, recognises that the days or prevarication and allowing the DUP to hold back change are over and any set of talks needs to be premised on that very, very clear understanding.”