The UK government has committed to legislating at Westminster on the Irish language and other cultural provisions if they are not dealt with in Stormont by October.
But what is the background to the impasse over the Irish language and other cultural judgments that the UK government may end up stepping in to address this fall? And why is it so controversial?
First, what does this move mean for the Irish language?
The big change is that there is now a time limit attached to the introduction of the Irish language and other measures, often referred to as the Cultural Package, which the Irish and British governments and the five parties to the Northern Executive have agreed to as part of the New Deal, the New Approach Agreement (NDNA) which brought back the Assembly after the absence of It lasted three years in January 2020.
After several days of negotiations, the North’s secretary announced early on Thursday that if the executive had not made progress on the legislation by the end of September, it would be introduced in the UK Parliament in Westminster in October.
What are the provisions?
At the NDNA, the First Minister and First Deputy Minister committed “to foster and oversee a new framework for recognizing and celebrating the diversity of identities and culture in Northern Ireland, and accommodating cultural difference”.
This includes the creation of an Office of Cultural Identity and Expression and legislation to create a commissioner to «recognise, support, protect and promote the Irish language in Northern Ireland.»
The legislation would also provide official recognition of Irish language status.
Ulster Scots will also receive formal recognition, and the Ulster Scotts Commissioner will be established.
A central translation center will be established to provide language translation services to executive departments, independent bodies, local government and public bodies.
Business can be conducted in the Assembly or Assembly Committee through Irish or Ulster-Scots, and interpretation service will be provided.
The procedures are similar to the long-standing sentences in Scotland and Wales.
Why is this controversial?
The Irish language was the main sticking point that frustrated attempts to restore the association before January 2020.
For nationalists, it transcended the Irish language and became an essential test of Unitarian attitudes toward Irish identity, as expressed through the «crocodile» comments of then First Minister Arlene Foster, rescinding a £50,000 grant scheme to send students to Gaeltacht and renaming a boat because its original name was In Irish.
These incidents were seen as a great disrespect for the Irish language and thus, as nationalists saw them, for people with an Irish identity.
So everything arranged then?
This has been around since the Irish language law was first agreed upon in St Andrew 15 years ago, and given the past few weeks, it has once again demonstrated the tensions surrounding it.
While a way has been found to overcome this latest impasse, it seems unlikely that the path ahead will not lead to further roadblocks, at least given the continued opposition to Irish language legislation within some sections of the unions and – and given their track record in other matters – to rely on this solution. The last on the UK government’s word.
There will also be consequences for the internal revolution that has broken out within the DUP; How much damage it will do remains to be seen.
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