Stand off likely on Irish Language Act

Whilst there is no shortage of good news on the government front, we haven’t yet hit the legislative white water. The proposed Irish Language Act is likely (along with selection in education) to be hotspot. Apparently there are to be back channel talks between the Arts Minister Edwin Poots and Gerry Adams. Although it was introduced as proposal at St Andrews it was not discussed by any of the participants there. It is, in effect, the result of Sinn Fein’s long term bilateral’s with former British PM Tony Blair.

“Young children in particular are being educated in increasing numbers through the medium of Irish and it is their future and their rights that must be secured through legislation. The Assembly and Minister Poots must make provisions for those Irish-speaking children and all Irish speakers in general. I urge my colleagues in the Assembly to act without delay to copper-fasten and implement the agreement made at St Andrews.”

It’s not clear what (if any) battlelines are to be adopted, since the DUP view seems to be a point blank ‘no’. The DUP’s submission plays up the short period of consultation, and hints that this could make it subject to judicial review. It primarily objects to the language’s role as a political rallying point for nationalism; cost implications for central and local government; and argues that it is likely to augment what it views as the already positive discrimination towards Irish medium schools (roll requirements are lower than for other types of school).

In contrast, both the SDLP supports full implementation, with a rights based approach. Alliance is broadly welcoming, but notes that a rights based approach is likely to be the most problematic, arguing that “it creates entitlements and associated burdens/duties on public bodies out all proportion of need”.

However no one is yet talking about what might be compromised upon. Unionists don’t want it at all, and nationalists want it all. It could turn out be the occasion on which we see the first cross community veto hove into view.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty