Alliance Party say three language bills could break Stormont deadlock

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Sinn Féin says an Irish language act must be introduced if power-sharing is to return

Three separate bills could be passed through the Northern Ireland Assembly to resolve the deadlock over an Irish language act, the Alliance Party has said.

Talks between political parties about restoring power-sharing at Stormont have faltered, with the Irish language issue proving to be a sticking point.

Alliance Party MLA Paula Bradshaw said the proposal leaves “no excuse” for the parties to continue their impasse.

But Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV) leader Jim Allister rejected the idea.

  • Why is the Irish language so divisive?

He described it as a “roll-over” to Sinn Féin’s demands for stand-alone legislation to give official status to the Irish language in Northern Ireland.

Sinn Féin has insisted that the introduction of an Irish language act is a critical issue if a deal is to be agreed to restore devolution at Stormont.

But the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has said it will not agree to “one-sided demands” and has accused Sinn Féin of building a “barrier to the return of Stormont”.

Northern Ireland has effectively been without a devolved government since January after a bitter row between the DUP and Sinn Féin.

They have failed to reach an agreement on restoring the Northern Ireland Executive and the assembly after several rounds of talks.

‘Workable suggestions’

In its paper of proposals to break the deadlock on the Irish language issue, the Alliance Party proposes:

  • a measure dealing with the Irish language;
  • another dealing with Ulster-Scots and English;
  • a third recognising the importance of indigenous spoken languages, regional dialects and languages and identities recently brought to Northern Ireland

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The triple-bill proposal leaves the DUP and Sinn Féin with no excuses, says Paula Bradshaw

Ms Bradshaw said her party’s suggestions were “workable”.

They will protect and preserve the Irish language, she added, but will not compel pupils to learn Irish in schools, force the introduction of dual-language signage in public places or introduce discriminatory employment practices.

The Alliance Party also suggested that the UK government could pass a short bill through Westminster committing to the continuing provision of broadcasting in the Irish language.

It said that would meet the commitments made by former prime minister Tony Blair at the time of the St Andrew’s Agreement.

But the plan has been criticised by the TUV’s Mr Allister.

He is critical of the Alliance Party for its support for recognising Irish as an official language and for the creation of a new Irish language commissioner to ensure the language is facilitated.

Mr Allister also argued that Alliance’s backing for the “provision for public signage in Irish in line with local demand” could lead to the marking-out of territory that is “supposed to be anathema” to the party.

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