Irish language legislation expected to be tabled within days - O'Neill

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Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill

By William James, PA

Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland Michelle O’Neill has said she expects the UK Government to table the Irish language legislation next week.

Labour has also promised to support the bill as it passes through Parliament.

Speaking in Belfast after addressing the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) conference on Tuesday, Sinn Fein vice president Ms O’Neill, said, as a New Decade, New Approach political commitment, it must be delivered upon.

She said: “Unfortunately the DUP reneged on that commitment and we had to find a solution and a way around the DUP, that was delivered upon by the British Government, so we expect to see that legislation tabled over the course of the next week or so.”

Ms O’Neill said she will meet with Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis and Lord Frost later.

Brexit Minister Lord Frost 

Also on Tuesday, a group of cross-party MPs and campaigners gathered outside the Houses of Parliament to pressure the British Government to deliver legislation quickly.

The Government pledged to press ahead with legislating for Irish language protections at Westminster after failed attempts at Stormont, with Mr Lewis saying the move would come at some point in October.

The Government previously faced calls from the DUP not to press ahead with the legislation while unionist concerns about Brexit’s Northern Ireland Protocol remain unaddressed.

As the end of October looms, supporters and members of Conradh na Gaeilge, a group pushing for the legislation, gathered outside the Palace of Westminster on Tuesday to prompt the Government into taking quicker action.

Dr Niall Comer, president of Conradh na Gaeilge and lecturer in Irish at Ulster University, said the legislation was “vital” for future generations of Irish speakers.

He said: “In 2006 an Irish Language Act was promised as part of the St Andrews agreement and we’ve been waiting since then for this.

“Earlier this year, the Secretary of State, Brandon Lewis stated that if the Stormont Government was not able to bring through the Irish language legislation, that this would be brought through Westminster, and if this hadn’t been done by the end of September that it would be brought through a month later.

“This is the reason we’re here now – to make sure that the Government honours its commitments and that an Irish Language Act will actually be brought through Westminster.

“It’s vital that this legislation is passed and is done quickly.”

John Finucane, Sinn Féin MP for Belfast North, accused the DUP of blocking previous attempts.

He said: “Ideally Stormont should be the place to legislate for this but what we have witnessed at Stormont over a number of years is one party, particularly the DUP, using their veto to block equality legislation.

“What we now want is for the British Government to step up and stand over their commitment, which was that if Stormont didn’t legislate for this then it would be legislated for here in London, so we want to see that delivered as soon as possible.”

North Belfast MP John Finucane

Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Louise Haigh announced Labour would support the bill.

She said: “This was agreed at New Decade, New Approach and it is therefore extremely disappointing that this has not been delivered. I believe it would be an important step to build confidence in a shared future.

“Nevertheless, in the absence of a move by the Northern Ireland Assembly, Labour will support the passage of legislation should it come before Parliament in the Autumn.”

The DUP has been approached for comment.

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