Arlene Foster: 'No stand-alone Irish language act'

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Media captionArlene Foster outlines talks proposals on Irish language

Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster has said there will be no free-standing Irish Language act.

She told BBC News NI she wanted to “clarify matters,” because some speculation had been “off the mark”.

However, Sinn Féin said an Irish Language act is “essential” to any deal that restores the power-sharing executive at Stormont.

It was widely anticipated that the DUP and Sinn Féin were close to ending their 13-month stalemate.

But, despite a visit from Prime Minister Theresa May and Taoiseach (Irish prime minister) Leo Varadkar on Monday, a deal has not yet been unveiled.

Northern Ireland has been run by civil servants since the power-sharing executive made up of the DUP and Sinn Féin collapsed in January last year.

The then deputy first minister, Martin McGuinness, pulled Sinn Féin out of the coalition after a series of disagreements with the final straw being the DUP’s handling of a scandal over green energy scheme.

A major stumbling block to progress has been Sinn Féin’s demand for an Irish language act.

Weakens the union?

On Tuesday, the DUP leader said there would be no compulsory Irish language in schools, no one would be forced to learn Irish, there would be no quotas for Irish speakers in the civil service and there would be no bilingual road signs.

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Media captionIt is make-up-your-mind time for the DUP, says Mary Lou McDonald

Mrs Foster would not be drawn on reports that the package under discussion includes three separate bills or acts dealing with Irish, Ulster Scots and other cultural matters.

She said the parties were trying to find an accommodation in which one language is not valued over another in a way which amounts to cultural or language supremacy.

Mrs Foster was asked on several occasions whether the package she is discussing includes an Irish language act or bill, but did not directly answer the question.

Standard letter

The DUP leader said her test for any proposal is whether it impinges on the rights of those who are British or in any way weakens the union.

Her message was reinforced by a standard letter issued to DUP elected representatives to use if they receive any criticism.

The letter, a copy of which has been obtained by the BBC, says the party’s manifesto makes it “absolutely clear” that the DUP “won’t sign up to any deal that diminishes Northern Ireland as a part of the United Kingdom”.

It elaborates on some of the aspects touched on by Mrs Foster, saying that “if that’s the price of a deal, then there will be no deal”.

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said the DUP needed to “make up their mind” about whether they are “up for a deal or not”.

“They [the DUP] know that the agreement requires an Acht Gaeilge.”

“There is a responsibility on all involved not to react to some of the noise from people who simply don’t want an agreement,” he added.

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