Taoiseach supports Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland

Varadkar says he hopes to hold abortion referendum before next summer

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael National Conference in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Co Cavan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar at the Fine Gael National Conference in the Slieve Russell Hotel, Co Cavan. Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill/The Irish Times

 

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has expressed support for the idea of an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland and has reaffirmed a commitment to holding an abortion referendum before next summer.

A proposal to enact legislation recognising the status of the Irish language in Northern Ireland has been a central aspect of the ongoing impasse between parties in the Stormont Assembly, which has not sat since March.

In an interview broadcast on the RTÉ Week in Politics programme, Mr Varadkar said the language should be protected by an act.

“I think there should be an Acht na Gaeilge in Northern Ireland. Irish language rights are recognised in Ireland, Welsh in Wales, Scottish in Scotland, and of course there should be legislation in Northern Ireland to protect and affirm the rights of Irish language issues,” he said.

Mr Varadkar sought to play down recent commentary describing the act as the ‘one man one vote’ issue of its day in Northern Ireland, a reference to the civil rights disputes of the 1960s, and pointed to Brexit as a pressing issue for communities on both sides of the Border.

On the issue of abortion, the Taoiseach said he does not expect the Oireachtas Joint Committee on the Eighth Amendment to produce a unanimous report but believes a majority report will likely be forthcoming.

“It’s the kind of issue on which there are very polarised opinions. I don’t think it will be possible for them to come to a unanimous report that will be of any meaning.

“I do think they will be able to come to a majority report, and I look forward to dealing with that. I would like to have the referendum on this issue before the summer of next year,” he said.

The committee is considering the recommendations made by the Citizens Assembly in relation to the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, which provides equal protection to the life of the unborn and mother.

Elsewhere, Mr Varadkar spoke of his disappointment at the stalled decision on an application for a proposed Apple data centre in Athenry which was belatedly given the green light by the High Court last month.

“I am and everyone in Government is very concerned that a major investment in the west of Ireland, an €850 million investment, has been stalled as a result of legal and planning delays.”

The Taoiseach also reiterated his desire to change legislation so that data centres can be categorised as strategic infrastructural developments in future in order to avoid similar complications arising.

On the same programme, the Fine Gael leader came in for criticism regarding his comments at the party’s Ard Fhéis this weekend that Ireland’s rate of homelessness is low by international standards.

Fianna Fáil TD Stephen Donnelly accused Mr Varadkar of attempting to “normalise” an unprecedented homelessness crisis in the State, and said his comments were reflective of a “Tory boy” mentality on the Taoiseach’s behalf.