Northern Ireland Minister Brandon Lewis said he would explore “all options available” to introduce Irish language laws in the region.
It comes amid tensions over the issue between Sinn Féin and the DUP that could potentially threaten the future of power-sharing.
Sinn Fein told the foreign secretary yesterday that “the only way forward” is to move the legislation through Westminster.
After meetings with key parties today, Lewis said it was “vital” to respect the commitments across society to culture and language reached in the New Deal’s New Deal Deal.
He added: “This includes the establishment of a British Commissioner in Ulster Scotts, an Irish Language Commissioner, and an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression for All in Northern Ireland.
“I want to lead real progress on these issues for all people in Northern Ireland and will continue to work closely with all parties to that end, and explore all options available.”
New: Update to my discussions with NI parties.
The people at NI deserve a stable, mature, working CEO who is able to achieve their best interest.
They need to see that politics works and that dialogue and debate produce results. pic.twitter.com/LygJWaO3oc
Brandon Lewis June 15, 2021
This comes amid a confrontation between the two main parties over the issue of language and the imminent demand for the appointment of a new prime minister.
But the DUP warned the British government not to interfere in Stormont’s affairs to get the Irish language laws passed in Parliament.
“Following the latest request from Mary Lou MacDonald, the government must not interfere in cases that have been delegated at Sinn Féin’s request,” said Representative Sammy Wilson.
The resignation of former DUP leader Arlene Foster from her position as the first female cabinet minister yesterday set a seven-day hour during which her successor, Lagan Valley MLA Paul Geffan, must be appointed.
However, the joint nature of the office Foster shares with Sinn Féin’s Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill, meant that O’Neill was automatically removed from her position when her partner at the helm of Northern Ireland’s executive resigned.
She must also be re-nominated for the role within those seven days.
If one of the parties fails to re-nominate within the time period, a properly functioning CEO cannot be formed and the UK Government has the legal responsibility to call early elections to the Assembly.
Sinn Féin has made it clear that he will only participate in the re-nomination process if it is accompanied by the initiation of legislation to protect Irish speakers.
The Irish language laws are an unfulfilled commitment under the 2020 deal that re-sharing power in Stormont.
New DUP leader Edwin Potts has pledged to implement all salient aspects of the new contract, the New Approach Agreement, including Irish language legislation.
However, he refused to give assurances to Sinn Féin that he would move to language laws in the current assembly state, a key demand of the Republican Party, and insisted that there were other priorities the executive should focus on, including health, service, and the economy.
Today, five Stormont parties – the Alliance, the Greens, People Before Profit, SDLP and Sinn Féin – signed a joint letter calling on the Executive and the British and Irish governments to agree on a timetable for passing the legislation by the end of the mandate.
After a meeting with Lewis yesterday evening, MacDonald said: “We met this evening with the British government and told them they needed to move Irish language legislation through Westminster.”
She said the party had made efforts to introduce laws through the Stormont Assembly, but Edwin Potts had told her that would not happen in the current state.
She added: “This legislation was negotiated a year and a half ago, and it is now the duty of the British and Irish governments to act upon it.
This is the only way forward to permanently resolve this issue.
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Today, the Representative for East Antrim warned Mr. Wilson against the move.
He noted Westminster’s interference with Stormont’s laws, including on abortion, during the three-year power-sharing impasse between 2017 and 2020.
The government enforced the most liberal abortion law in the British Isles in Northern Ireland.
“Such measures only serve to undermine the transition of power,” he said.
“The imposition of Sinn Féin’s last wish list will further damage the credibility of the Northern Ireland Assembly.
“Repeated interferences in delegated matters undermine the manifesto’s promises to the Northern Ireland parties and rightly raise questions about the confidence voters would have in their elect if the Foreign Secretary could causally disregard their promises.
“Instead of running away to Her Majesty when they can’t get their way, Republicans should honor our mandate.
“Sinn Féin plays ransom politics and puts culture above health, education, and economic recovery.”
Earlier today, MLAs voted in favor of a proposal to provide translation services for debates at the Northern Ireland Assembly in Ireland and Ulster-Scots.
The motion passed by 58 votes to 27, with the DUP voting against.
The DUP’s amendment, backed by the DUP, which requires the service to be reviewed every six months, was revised by 44 votes to 41.
The service was provided under the new contract new approach agreement that re-shared energy.