Irish and British governments expect to hear if Sinn Féin-DUP deal is on
North’s two main parties trying to resolve differences over proposed Irish language act
Arlene Foster: “What we can’t see happening is the Gaelicisation of areas where there is no desire or demand for the Irish language.” Photograph: Getty Images
The British and Irish governments are this week expecting to hear from the DUP and Sinn Féin on whether they can strike a deal to bring back the Northern Executive and Assembly.
For a number of weeks now Sinn Féin and the DUP have been locked in behind-the-scenes negotiations to determine if they can find common ground that would lead to the restoration of Stormont – with the Irish language the main obstacle to agreement.
“The two parties are in that space where it is, will they, won’t they, are they ready to do a deal, or are they not?” said a senior talks source on Sunday.
A deadline for a deal is looming because in the absence of agreement the Northern Secretary James Brokenshire will soon be bound to bring in legislation through Westminster to implement a budget for Northern Ireland.
If Northern politicians are to have this responsibility then it must be clear that a deal can be done in the coming weeks – which is why Dublin and London are expecting statements from the DUP and Sinn Féin this week on whether agreement is possible.
Talks sources said that key issues including how to address the past and deal with the matter of same-sex marriage effectively have been resolved, but that the Sinn Féin demand for a free-standing Irish language act is the one big issue to be settled.
The DUP wants legislation on Irish to be linked to other matters such as Ulster Scots. The DUP-Sinn Féin talks, it is understood, have been around trying to determine if these competing demands can be finessed.
One possible compromise could involve linked legislation where both Irish and Ulster Scots could be separately addressed but under some form of umbrella legislation.
Asked if this were a possibility, a Sinn Féin source said he could not comment on what was happening in the talks.
Asked a similar question by the BBC at the Tory party conference in Manchester last week, DUP leader Arlene Foster equally was noncommittal. “I am not going to get into that.”
Ms Foster, while giving little away, indicated that her party would not tolerate legislation where there would be an imposition of Irish signage in some unionist areas where there might be antipathy to the language.
Nothing to fear
“My position has been the position since end of August. I made a speech then saying that there was nothing to fear from the Irish language in terms of unionism. But what we can’t see happening is the Gaelicisation of areas where there is no desire or demand for the Irish language.
“It would be totally unacceptable for those areas of Northern Ireland that don’t want to see Irish used to impose it on people. And that is not something we are going to be involved in.”
Alliance deputy leader Stephen Farry said on Sunday it was “now well past time for the DUP and Sinn Féin to make a deal and form an Executive”.
“It is hard to imagine what more DUP and Sinn Féin could conceivably discuss on the outstanding issues. If they are simply going around in circles then they need to admit that, and consideration to other forms of self-government then needs to commence. If there is a deal to be done, then it needs to be done now.”