UUP leader meets Irish language activists

Image caption, Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish language act, a proposal that divides the assembly along traditional community lines

Ulster Unionist leader Robin Swann has called on Sinn Féin to stop using the Irish language as a red line to prevent the restoration of an executive.

Mr Swann met activists from the Irish language group, Conradh na Gaeilge, at Stormont on Thursday.

He reiterated his party's view that there is no need for a stand-alone Irish language act.

Conradh na Gaeilge does not want parties that back such a move to return to the Assembly until it is resolved.

The language issue has been a major sticking point in talks to restore devolution at Stormont.

The Ulster Unionists argue that policies put in place by former UUP minister Michael McGimpsey cater adequately for Irish speakers.

Mr Swann said the meeting had been conducted "in a frank and respectful manner" and that his party was concerned that the language issue was being used to divide society.

"We also voiced our frustration that the issue of an Irish language act has become a red line in the current talks impasse, and is effectively being used to hold Northern Ireland to ransom. This cannot be allowed to continue," he said.

Image caption, Robin Swann said the Irish language issue was being used to hold Northern Ireland to ransom

Conradh na Gaeilge spokesman Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin said the meeting with Ulster Unionists was "evidence of the strength of this remarkable community-led campaign for respect, rights and recognition for the Irish language".

He said the group had now met representatives from most of the assembly parties.

"To date, we have had a long line of meetings with almost every other party, five of which now support the community call for a rights-based, stand-alone Irish language act including Alliance, the Green Party, People Before Profit, the SDLP, and Sinn Féin.

"That support translates into 50 out of 90 MLAs and a majority support within the assembly for the first time."

Image source, Conradh na Gaeilge
Image caption, Irish language activists staged a major protest in Belfast in May

'Feed a crocodile'

When asked about the issue in February this year, Mrs Foster said the DUP would never agree to an Irish Language Act.

Alluding to Sinn Féin's demand for the legislation at that time, she said: "If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more."

However, in April, Mrs Foster said she wanted to meet Irish speakers, to better understand those who love the language.

Media caption, DUP leader Arlene Foster says thank you in Irish

Later that month, the DUP leader visited Irish speakers at a Newry school and used the Irish phrase "go raibh maith agat" [thank you].

Conradh na Gaeilge was set up in 1893 by Douglas Hyde, a Protestant from County Roscommon.

He was a leading Gaelic scholar and writer who campaigned for the preservation and promotion of the Irish language.

Hyde later served as the first president of Ireland, from 1938 to 1945.

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