Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Edwin Poots, has added fresh uncertainty to Northern Ireland’s already highly unstable political environment by declining to give unequivocal support to Irish language legislation.
In his latest posturing on the emotive issue, Poots says while he “intends” to support Irish language legislation, this will “not necessarily” happen before the next assembly election in April 2022.
Poots’ latest comments on the issue have elicited a sharp response from the Irish Republican group Sinn Féin.
Veteran Sinn Féin politician, Conor Murphy, was insistent that his party had been assured that Irish language commitments set out in the New decade, New Approach agreement would be honored.
Looking visibly exasperated at a press conference at Stormont (the seat of the Northern Ireland Assembly), Murphy said that the previous DUP leadership (headed by Arlene Foster) had undertaken to bring the legislation forward in December, January and February, but to no avail as no progress has been made.
Murphy, who is the Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) for the Newry and Armagh constituency, strongly hinted that Sinn Féin may not support the new DUP First Minister-Designate, Paul Givan, unless Irish language legislation is approved by ministers before July 10.
The devolved Northern Ireland Assembly is set to break for summer recess on July 10.
For his part, Poots was insistent that conditions could not be attached to nominating a first and deputy first minister.
"Setting pre-conditions is not appropriate, it's not respecting someone's mandate, and we cannot be in a circumstance where we have pre-conditions set for the selection of our first minister. And I'm not setting pre-conditions to the selection of Sinn Fein's deputy first minister”, the DUP leader said.
To complicate matters even further, Northern Ireland’s outgoing First Minister, Arlene Foster, urged political parties to stick to a language and cultural deal they agreed to in January 2020.
Foster, who was overthrown as DUP leader six weeks ago, claimed the deal was “the only model for success”.
The New Decade, New approach agreement envisages the creation of an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression, an Irish language commissioner and a commissioner to enhance and develop the language and culture of the Ulster-Scots/Ulster-British tradition.
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