The DUP has said it remains committed to the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement which restored the North's powersharing Executive after it was reported the party would block the introduction of an Irish Language Act at Stormont because of the unionist anger over the Northern Ireland protocol.
On Monday, BBC Radio Ulster's Stephen Nolan Show quoted a senior DUP source claiming the introduction of the legislation was "off the table" while the protocol remained in place.
The failure to introduce an Irish Language Act was a key factor in the deadlock which kept Stormont suspended for three years and a commitment to the Act by the North’s parties and the Irish and British parties paved the way for the NDNA deal that restored the Assembly in 2020.
A statement issued in response by the DUP did not reject the claim or refer specifically to the Irish Language Act, saying instead that the way forward was through “dialogue and political discussion” and emphasising the party’s commitment to the “balanced upholding of all aspects of the devolution settlement”.
Each strand, the DUP said, “can only fully function when the others are working properly”, adding that it had “seen the erection of barriers between GB and NI on trade and the application of laws governing our country as well as blatant disrespect for the unionist identity.
“All of these issues must be addressed and resolved along with the New Decade, New Approach commitments if we are to achieve stability for Northern Ireland,” the DUP said.
The party is opposed to the protocol because it places a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea. It and the other unionist parties in Northern Ireland are campaigning for it to be scrapped.
A senior DUP source told The Irish Times the current situation was not conducive to unionists delivering aspects of the NDNA agreement and this would not change unless real progress was made regarding the protocol.
However, the Minister for Education, DUP MLA Peter Weir, told the PA news agency he was "bemused" by both this and the suggestion in the Sunday Independent by David Campbell of the Loyalist Communities Council (LCC), which represents loyalist paramilitaries, that collapsing the Northern Executive was "within the DUP's thinking".
Mr Weir said to collapse Stormont would be “counterproductive”, and the issue had not been raised at a meeting between the LCC and the DUP leadership.
“We’re somewhat bemused by some of the reports, and I’m not going to get too much into some of the comments that are unattributable comments,” he said.
‘Honoured and delivered’
Sinn Féin MLA John O’Dowd said commitment to an Irish Language Act made in the NDNA agreement must be “honoured and delivered” by the parties in the North’s Executive, and by both governments.
“There will be no renegotiation and backsliding on commitments made,” he said. “The rights of the Irish language community cannot be held hostage to the disaster of the Tory-DUP Brexit.”
SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone said the protocol was an international agreement between the British government and the European Union which had "absolutely nothing to do with Irish language speakers in the North.
“Any attempt to renege on commitments in New Decade, New Approach related to language and cultural rights on that basis is illogical and fuelled by intolerance.
“The First Minister should urgently clarify her party’s position on this issue and set out a clear timeframe for the faithful implementation of the New Decade, New Approach commitments,” he said.