Irish Language Act: “Dr Paisley had been intensely displeased by the Blair administration’s trickery.”

To those still buying into the Major/Powell idea that the British government is always a neutral player in negotiations, try this account from Peter Robinson on how Blair set Sinn Fein up with a promise for an Irish Language Act he had no intention of asking the DUP to deliver:

“It was Ian’s assessment – and in my view an accurate one – that if the government was prepared to con Sinn Féin in the way it did, they would be prepared to do the same to us.”

He revealed how “in later life Martin McGuinness and I often spoke about the different, inexact and misleading messages we were given during earlier negotiations when the Blair government was acting as intermediary”.

In his recollection of events during the 2006 St Andrews’ talks, Mr Robinson said that while Sinn Féin genuinely believed an agreement to implement an Irish Language Act had been reached, there had been only “a tongue in cheek” promise by the government.

Mr Robinson said the issue was “never raised” with his party during the negotiations. He believes a reference was inserted into the agreement at the very end of the talks.

“We were not informed of any change to the document,” he said. When the DUP noticed the “added section”, it informed the government that it was “unacceptable” to the party.

“We were told the section had been carefully and deliberately worded. It was not an issue that should cause us any concern,” Mr Robinson said.

“They informed us that as devolution would be up and running the government would not make good its commitment as the power would be devolved.

“At no stage did Ian commit the party to accepting an Irish Language Act and indeed we made sure there was no commitment to it in the legislation.”

Mr Robinson said Dr Paisley had been “intensely displeased” by the Blair administration’s trickery.

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  • aquifer

    A former estate agent knows that a contract is a contract. Caveat empty talk.

  • Lionel Hutz

    Anyone reading St Andrew’s can clearly see that Sinn Fein was duped. What I don’t understand is how Sinn Fein didn’t read it and think that it was a little odd how it was said to be an obligation on the UK Government not an agreement for the newly restored assembly. They might think “a promise is a promise” but the wording was so clearly at odds with the rest of the document

  • Reader

    aquifer: A former estate agent knows that a contract is a contract. Caveat empty talk.
    The same former estate agent would also know that if themmuns can’t win the case in court; the contract, not the caveat, is empty talk

  • chrisjones2

    SF were clearly stiffed by Blair so perhaps they could take it up with him. There was never an agreement between the parties here on an ILA never mind what would be in that act if it were ever passed. Indeed, in saying they were stiffed we don’t actually know what promises if any were made. We have only Gerry “I was never in the IRA”‘s word for it.

  • chrisjones2

    SF though is like one of those vendors who, when you move in, have taken all the light fittings switches and the bulbs, dug up the plants in the garden and drained the last gallon of oil from the central heating. Then when they move to a new address and find the same done to them they are affronted

  • chrisjones2

    But with their renown skills and the Chuckle Brothers relationship they could have negotiated a deal? Instead 12 years later ………..

    Buyer remorse.

  • runnymede

    Doesn’t this just tell you that Blair is a duplicitous character? Not news I think.

  • ted hagan

    But this was real politik and surely demonstrates impartiality aand even-handedness in that the British government was prepared to con both sides equally.
    Perfidious Albion or what…?

  • ted hagan

    Sinn Fein only let the Irish Language genie out of the bottle again when it suited them, and that was after the collapsing the executive.

  • ted hagan

    No one else could have got a deal through. He was dealing with the geniuses of duplicity on both sides of the defence.

  • John Collins

    What politician is not at least to some extent ‘duplicitous’?

  • Brian Walker

    So do we take Ian Paisley’s word for it? Couldn’t they all read the document they signed up to and weigh up its significance? What happened was surely that Sinn Fein waited for the ” right ” moment to force a crisis after the DUP gambled on it not happening. Enter ” Events, dear Boy” the Brexit result and RHI..

  • Nevin

    Brian, SF didn’t pull the plug following the Brexit referendum or the Northern Ireland Audit Office report in July 2016; it didn’t even pull the plug when the incendiary BBC Spotlight RHI programme was aired on December 6.

  • Nevin
  • SeaanUiNeill

    Not only Blair! Lloyd George in 1916 could promise Redmond temporary partition while telling Carson etc it could be permanent. It’s a long, long tradition. For details see my postings on the origins of the usage “Perfidious Albion” a while back.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Danny Kinahan, who unfortunately is still a committed member of the late lamented UUP.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    And it says a great deal about NI politics that such manipulative tactics (false assurances etc.) have to be deployed in order to bring the players to much needed agreement. But hey, if it brings us ever closer to mutual compromise …

  • Spike

    Ah, the gaping hole in the DUP’s logic. Can we take their word for anything if agreements in the most important document signed since partition are now being reneged on just because it doesn’t back up their lies? Fully expect the ‘but but buts’ unionist brigade to come on now and defend the indefensible. Basic rules of English Contract Law – Offer, acceptance, Consideration, Intention and Form. Throw in performance and checkmate Sinn Fein on this issue. it may be a long game but its inevitable if the electorate keep giving them the mandate to pursue it. If it goes to court theres only one winner therefore the DUP need the Tories to avert that.

  • mickfealty

    You’re far more generous than me Brian. They clearly didn’t want to read it out loud because they needed their Ard Fheis to read it in a particular way (ie, that AnG was nailed on). They surely did not intend that they would *have* to wait for a “right” moment to try to extract it.

    It goes without saying that it’s a sub optimal form of politics if you feel you have to wait ten years before raising the subject of getting the thing you told your supporters you’d got in 2006. I’m also intrigued as to what Robinson’s motive is for telling this story now.

    Strikes me that it could be an attempt to push the goal back even further by telling everyone (again) that Blair’s promise doesn’t amount to a hill of beans, but that if you want a languages act, let’s talk?

    But let’s see what happens next.

  • james

    Certainly appears that way – having not bothered about it for nigh on a decade..

  • james

    “Basic rules of English Contract Law – Offer, acceptance, Consideration, Intention and Form.”

    Perhaps, though there seems to have been no tangible offer from Blair – and certainly not from the DUP.

    Pretending there is an offer, which you then accept, does not a contract make.

    And what would you say was the consideration given up by SF in this case?

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Is fada mise den tuairim gur buaileadh bob ar SF sa chás seo. Ar ndóigh buaileadh bob ar an DUP freisin. Bhí SF den tuairim go reachtófaí Acht Ghaeilge ach an rud a dúradh ná ‘the Government (cén Rialtas?) will introduce (an ionann seo agus reachtú?) an Irish Language Act (conas is féidir Acht a ‘chur i láthair’? Ar chuala tú riamh a leithéid?). Cheannaigh SF an margadh ar an mbonn go raibh Acht geallta agus cheannaigh an DUP an margadh céanna (ag Cill Rimhinn) ar an mbonn go raibh cumhacht veto acu ar a leithéid i gcónaí, tré an achainí imní. An deacracht atá ag an DUP ná go bhfuil dualgas ar Rialtas na Breataine Acht Ghaeilge a reachtú sa chás nach bhfilleann cumhacht go Stormont – ós rud é gur ‘Acht’ a gheall siad a chur i láthair, ní ghlacfainn le Bille leathbhacáilte nó Bille d’aon tsórt! Bfhiú go mór ag an stáid seo an Acht is costasaí agus is féidir a éileamh ar Rialtas na Breataine – staisiún theilifíse a la Alba agus Cymru, nuachtáin, cultúrlann ag gach cúinne sráide, Ollscoil Ghaeilge ar nós Sabhal Mòr Ostaigh, athshamhlú iomlán ar Fhoras na Gaeilge ón mbarr anuas.
    Más gá go raibh a chomhionann ag lucht Albainis Uladh, bíodh acu. Dá chostasaí an margadh sea is fearr é. Beidh an bhfoirithint ar an Ultais chomh h-úsáideach is chomh heifeachtach le Trident. Deir an DUP agus na Tóraithe gur luachmhar leo an Aontas – cuirtear scrúdú dian ar seo. Seo deis nach féidir ligint tharainn.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I’m long of the opinion the Brits sold SF short on the promise of ‘introducing an Irish Language Act’ but they were also conning the DUP with the claim they had written the provision ‘very carefully’. You introduce a Bill – not an Act. This was a promise by the Government, however, and that would only come into play if devolution was not up and running. Hence the added incentive for the DUP to do a deal with the devil back then. Devolution was restored and the British said that the Irish Language Bill was within the competence of Stormont. At the time, back in the heady days of 2006/7/8, there was optimism that a genuine new dispensation existed, a good will which was dissipated rapidly by the then equivalent of the Líofa decision, the scrapping by the then DCAL minister, Edwin Poots, to axe the Irish Language Broadcast Fund. I remember first publishing that story as I was then editor of Lá and thinking that it would cause uproar. SF barely batted an eyelid – so dazzled were they by the trappings of power. Neither, for that matter did the SdLP. At the same time, Lá for whom I was editor was not getting the public ads which would have ensured the paper’s survival. Instead hugely costly bilingual ads were from the NI Executive to the Newsletter and Belfast Telegraph. This ban was enforced by the Department of Finance and Personnel – was Peter Robinson not the Minister then until he took over from Big Ian? The newspaper folded.
    Back to today, the current impasse presents SF with an unmissable opportunity to demand a fully baked Acht na Gaeilge, including a Cultúrlann on every corner, an Irish Language University similar to Sabhal Mòr Ostaigh, a fully resourced TV channel, radio station, newspaper and websites, a top down reform of Foras na Gaeilge, bilingual signage, Irish in the courts, Assembly and Councils, the works. If it costs more than Nelson guesstimated, great. Ulster Scots should get the same. That particular investment will be as useful as Trident – no use at all. It’s time to hold the feet of Arlene and Theresa to the fire to find out how much they value their ‘precious Union’!

  • chrisjones2

    So where was the acceptance?

    SF were offered an ILA that would have to be passed by the Assembly in cooperation with the DUP. The offer was made by Blair without reference to the DUP

    This is like me selling your house with you knowing it

  • chrisjones2

    La was the wrong kind of Irish Language Paper

  • Spike

    Big clue of acceptance is that huge building up on on the hill.

  • Spike

    DUPs consideration, SF had other matters to consider. Business efficacy and all that jazz

  • Croiteir

    I often wonder how long it will take the nationalist people to twig the entire GFA and that which followed was a gigantic con on the nationalist people inflicted more by FF and SF than the British.

  • james

    Beg your pardon?

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    it was as good an Irish Language newspaper as ever was and given that most English newspapers are full of agency copy and press releases, better than most English language media. Anyhow, it was Lá not La.
    What kind of Irish Language newspaper would have been the ‘right kind’?

  • Fick Mealty

    Disapointing that Slugger is now reduced to pumping out the DUP party line without a single question about its veracity from the author.

    We have been told repeatedly over the last few days how shrewd the DUP are at negotiating, and Mick spent much of 2016 gloating about how the DUP were running rings around SF. But now we are to believe that 10 years earlier an Irish Language clause was stuck in the St Andrews agreement and they knew nothing about it.

    And said nothing.

    For 10 years.

    Because, yeah, the DUP are not the sort of party that would gloat about getting one over on SF.

    We all know that the proposed ILA is a sticking point at the talks, and it looks like Robinson has been sent to get the excuse out early – essentially, silly old SF got conned, the DUP never agreed to anything, and the Irish Independent, Belfast Telegraph and Slugger O’Toole are happy to report this as the truth with no questions asked.

    Instead, the reality is much simplier. The DUP agreed to something, realised they couldn’t sell it and changed their minds.

  • Lionel Hutz

    There’s probably something in that. They didn’t negotiate that into any of the programs for government