Many commentators have been quick to make the point that Sinn Féin are hanging their hat (and the future of the devolved Northern Ireland institutions…) on getting agreement to implement an Irish Language Act, but yet no such red line was drawn in previous post-election talks.
This Belfast Telegraph article from the late Liam Clarke highlights what has transpired previously. This was written 2 weeks before the Stormont House Agreement was signed.
Sinn Fein has set out a list of demands – ranging from millions of pounds in Stormont funding to an Irish Language Act – it wants to see movement on before signing off on any deal on welfare reform and the budget.
Conor Murphy MLA (then an MP), said:
It (the government) has failed to implement commitments such as Acht na Gaeilge (an Irish Language Act), the Civic Forum, an all-island Consultative Forum, North South implementation bodies and a Bill of Rights…The British Government has also refused to address its role and responsibilities in dealing with the legacy of the past.
One observation I would make here is that in 2014, Conor Murphy seemed to accept, from the above language, that the responsibility for an Irish Language Act lay with Westminster and not at the door of the DUP.
Following Sinn Féin laying out their stall in 2014 (as they have once again…), the DUP’s Gregory Campbell MP infamously said that the DUP would treat Sinn Féin’s entire wish list as “no more than toilet paper.”
As it transpired, Sinn Féin signed up to the Stormont House Agreement with no guarantee on an Irish Language Act – so perhaps it wasn’t such a red line then after all, with the following being the reference to language in the Stormont House Agreement:
68. The UK Government and the Irish Government, recalling commitments from previous Agreements, and recognising the importance of understanding, tolerance and respect in relation to linguistic diversity, endorse the need for respect for and recognition of the Irish language in Northern Ireland, consistent with the Council of Europe Charter on Regional or Minority Languages.
Note that once again, the SHA, signed up to by Sinn Féin, reiterated the UK (and Irish) Government’s need to endorse respect and recognition of the Irish language. Not any member or party of the NI Assembly.
So what was a red line issue, on an Irish Language Act (and a Bill of Rights), wasn’t as crucial to agreement as it initially appeared.
One wonders if Sinn Féin might once again step back from the definitive position.
Another element of the SHA regards the Petition of Concern mechanism:
58.Changes will be made to the operation of the Petition of Concern mechanism through a protocol agreed between the parties.
Just another element of an agreement that failed to manifest itself.