Sinn Féin: Irish not being used to block executive restoration

Posted By: July 21, 2017

John Manley. Irish News. Belfast. Friday, July 1, 2017

Pat Sheehan challenged the DUP to call Sinn Féin’s bluff. Picture by Cliff Donaldson

Edwin Poots has said the DUP does not want bilingual signs ‘everywhere’ in the north. Picture by Alan Lewis
One of Sinn Féin’s Stormont negotiators has rejected DUP claims that Republicans are using opposition to an Irish language act to block the restoration of an executive.

West Belfast MLA Pat Sheehan challenged the DUP to call Sinn Féin’s bluff by agreeing to standalone legislation to protect and promote Irish.

His comments came in the wake of Edwin Poots address to the MacGill Summer School in Glenties, Co


The former DUP health minister said his party was opposed to Irish language legislation “that is more about developing a sense of national identity than it is about supporting the language itself.”

However, other aspects of the Lagan Valley MLA’s speech appeared more nuanced, including his closing remarks as Gaeilge.

Notable among what Mr. Poots, above, said was that the DUP “don’t want to see bilingual road signs everywhere in Northern Ireland” – suggesting road signs that included Irish would be acceptable in some areas.

He said his party was opposed to a quota for Irish speakers in the public sector – a demand Sinn Féin denied ever making earlier this month – and an Irish language commissioner “with powers to sanction public authorities.”

“Any legislation must respect the reality that more than one culture exists in Northern Ireland,” the Lagan Valley MLA said.

During a meeting in April with Irish language advocacy group Conradh na Gaeilge, Mr. Poots reportedly said the costs of an Irish language act were “reasonable” – a claim yet to be denied by the DUP.

In his speech on Wednesday, he said: “anyone who speaks and loves the Irish language is as much a part of Northern Ireland life as a collarette-wearing Orangeman.”

But he said there was “no place for cultural supremacy” and that there was space in the north “for all cultures to thrive side by side.”

“What’s needed now is a recognition of the sensitivities surrounding this subject and a much more realistic approach from Republicans,” he said.

The former health minister said his closing remarks in Irish translated as: “The branch lives on the hedge though the hand that planted it be dead.”

Mr. Poots later told the BBC that Sinn Féin was using opposition to an Irish language act as a “useful tool” that gave Republicans cover for not joining an executive.

Sinn Féin negotiator Pat Sheehan, right, welcomed the senior DUP representative’s decision to speak as Gaeilge but dismissed Mr. Poots’s claim that Sinn Féin was reluctant to take its place in a restored executive.

“Sinn Féin is absolutely committed to the re-establishment of the executive and if the DUP really believe we aren’t then they should call our bluff,” he said.

“They should agree to an Irish language act and the implementation of the other rights-based issues which are still outstanding.”

Mr. Sheehan said his party was against joining an executive on the same basis as that which collapsed in January.

“If the DUP are serious about getting back to power-sharing, they know very well what the issues are and that any new executive will have to be based on the acceptance, recognition, and delivery of rights for all,” he said.

Janet Muller, director of Irish language advocacy group Pobal, said the phrase Mr. Poots had used as Gaeilge was “quite ambiguous in this context.”

“It could either be an encouragement to move forward on the Irish language act and be remembered for taking a step forward or an indication that the DUP is playing to its own hardline by saying they will not do this,” she said.

Conradh na Gaelige president Niall Comer said that while Mr. Poots’s language was “very much different from previous comments” from his party, he rejected the claim that a standalone Irish language act threatened other cultures.

“Conradh na Gaeilge has been to the fore in the campaign for an act, has produced a document which contains proposals which would recognize, protect and promote the use of Irish in everyday life, but which would at no point pose any threat to any other cultures,” he said.