Irish language act will not be introduced before Assembly elections in May, says Lewis

Irish language act will not be introduced before Assembly elections in May, says Lewis

A CULTRUAL package which includes legislation relating to the recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland will not be introduced before the Stormont elections in May, Secretary of State Brandon Lewis has said.

The New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) Deal contains provisions for the need to respect the freedom of all persons in Northern Ireland to choose, affirm, maintain and develop their national and cultural identity, and seeks to legislate the creation of a Commissioner to enhance the development of the Irish language and officially recognise its status.

When questioned on the timeline of the implementation of the NDNA at the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee on Monday, Lewis said that he didn't think it would be "right or proper to introduce legislation during the election period around these issues."

"It does need careful preparation and planning before introduction," he said.

He noted how parties were unable to come to an agreement on what the three commissioners of the NDNA should be called

"I am much keener for the parties to agree on what the final names would be before we legislate because we can't legislate for a commissioner that doesn't have a name."

Continuing, he said Westminster would deliver on the NDNA if it isn't deliver by the executive.

"Ultimately if the parties can come together and find a way to deliver its wishes then it should be delivered at the executive, but we said we would deliver this if it wasn't delivered by the executive and I stand by that commitment.

"I've always thought this would be much better done by Stormont as it was Stormont parties that agreed this package in the first place. We would ensure that any language we use is taken directly from the NDNA agreement."

The delay in the implementation of the legalisation has been criticised by Conradh na Gaeilge.

"Let there be no doubt, the British Government have had the best part of 6 months to bring forward this legislation before the mandate ended, and have missed every deadline throughout," President Paula Melvin said.

"At every juncture they have decided not to prioritise this legislation, or to kick it further down the line to suit their own political agenda. We aren’t surprised. We told them time and time again if not resolved, this issue would re-emerge throughout the election and afterwards remain a core outstanding issue.

"They decided not to act on that. Our community will continue to organise and ensure this issue remains to the fore during the election and throughout the following negotiations to form a new Executive."

Similarly, Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill said a promised for the introdction of an Irish language Act has "passed without delivery or any credible defence from Brandon Lewis."

"If Acht Gaeilge remains undelivered it represents a serious breach of yet another agreement by this Tory Government," she said.

"However, they underestimate the determination of the Irish speaking community and the momentum behind the campaign for the official status of the language to be recognised by the state and rights enshrined in law which certainly will not go away, but become stronger.

"There is an onus also on the Irish government to stand up decisively for the rights of Irish language speakers, and to the British government who must honour its obligations under the political agreements they have made."