Don't use Irish language as a ‘political weapon’, Minister tells MacGill

Joe McHugh says language is not a threat and belongs to all, both North and South

Joe McHugh: ‘I’d be happy  to meet and talk with any unionists who have any concerns about the Irish language’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Joe McHugh: ‘I’d be happy to meet and talk with any unionists who have any concerns about the Irish language’. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

The Irish language does not belong to any political party but to those who love it, Gaeltacht minister Joe McHugh has said.

Speaking at the MacGill Summer School on Wednesday night the Donegal TD, who shared a platform as DUP Assembly member Edwin Poots, said the Irish language, one of the key issues holding up restoration of the Northern Executive, was not a threat.

“The sooner the institutions in Northern Ireland are re-instated, the better for everyone on this island. Relationship-building continues across a wide variety of areas but we need to continue it on the political front too,” he said.

“I know our Government position is that an Irish language act in Northern Ireland should be introduced. It was agreed at the St Andrew’s talks a decade ago,” he said.

“So I want to say to Edwin here this evening, the Irish language does not belong to any political party, North or South. It belongs to all those who wish to engage with it. The Presbyterian community in particular helped to save the language over many years,” he said.

“The language is not a threat. It is not a political weapon and it should not be used as one. It is the same for Ulster-Scots. The Ulster-Scots Agency has an office in this constituency in Raphoe to further promote that part of our shared heritage, particularly here in Ulster.

“I’d be happy as Minister for the Irish language in this jurisdiction to meet and talk with any unionists who have any concerns about the Irish language and reassure them that people like me who have learned to love the language have no intention of doing anything other than speak it and share it with those who want to share in it.”

Mr McHugh said the Government managed to persuade the EU of Ireland’s unique circumstances in the Brexit process.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that the priority for me as a TD for Donegal and as someone who sits at the Cabinet table as Government chief whip, that we must protect the peace process. I am very, very conscious that it remains a peace process and that we have to continue to nurture it and ensure we never go back,” he said.

“I want the invisible border to remain. Furthermore I do not want an economic or physical border, and with my colleagues we are working for the retention of the common travel area and the closest possible trading relationship to continue between North and South and between east and west across the Irish Sea,” added Mr McHugh.