16:42, July 02 68 0 theguardian.com

2017-07-02 16:42:03
Brexit explained  Sinn Féin denies seeking 'cultural supremacy' via Irish language Act

Sinn Féin has denied it is seeking “cultural supremacy” over unionists in its demand for a standalone Irish language Act – the key concession for republicans that could lead to the re-establishment of a power-sharing government in Northern Ireland.

As the parties represented in the Stormont assembly stare down yet another deadline on Monday on talks designed to restore a devolved cross-community government in Belfast, the republican party has denied claims it is seeking to impose Irish culture on unionists.

Simon Hamilton, a Democratic Unionist party negotiator at the discussions in Stormont Castle, claimed that Sinn Féin was seeing a “10-0 win” over unionists. He urged Sinn Féin on Sunday to work with the DUP “and build on the progress that we have been making over the talks to get a fair, a sensible and a balanced deal that can be supported by all sides of our community”.

But John O’Dowd, of Sinn Féin, said it was “absolutely ridiculous” to suggest his party was seeking to win a cultural war. “When you have a rights-based society for everybody, people’s rights, whether you’re from the Orange tradition or any other tradition, [are] protected in law,” he said.

Sinn Féin wants an Irish language Act to be a “standalone” one, which means that the legislation would only concern the rights of Irish speakers and the issue of putting the Gaelic language on an equal par in law to English.

The DUP, fearing criticism from more hard-line unionists, have argued for a more all embracing culture Act that would not only guarantee the rights of those who speak Irish but also the rights of Ulster Scots speakers as well as incorporate protection of Orange/Protestant culture into legislation. The issue is now at the centre of the disagreement dogging the talks at Stormont Castle.

Meanwhile, the Irish government has been accused of playing a dangerous game by talking up fears of a hard border (between north and south) and a possible post-Brexit poll on a united Ireland.

Political allies of the Ulster Volunteer Force have suggested that Dublin is transmitting a negative message to working-class unionists in the post-Brexit era. The Progressive Unionist party said this was potentially undermining years of good relations between the loyalist community and successive Irish administrations.

Billy Hutchinson, PUP’s leader, who is a Belfast city councillor, said the minority government, led by Fine Gael, was telling loyalists one thing in private while publicly “talking up” the prospect of Brexit delivering Irish unity.

He added: “I have a problem personally around the Brexit thing because I voted to remain [in the EU] but the reality is that I have to accept now that there was a UK-wide vote in all the British regions to go. So what we need to do now is to make the best of it and meet the challenges. But we can’t keep going on and crying into our beer that we lost.

“It’s a dangerous game if the Irish government are saying things like Brexit could lead to a united Ireland, or a border poll. That is sending a poor message to unionists and I think Irish governments have worked hard over the years to build a good relationship up with the unionist community.

“Yet the difficulty for unionists here in Northern Ireland is that any government in London, even a Tory one, acts as honest broker between unionism and nationalism, whereas all Irish governments act as guarantors for nationalists. So Dublin needs to remember that unionists still feel they are on their own.” .

The PUP leader said that while he understood that the Irish government was trying to “outflank” Sinn Féin on Brexit by appearing to take a more hardline nationalist stance, others in the loyalist community might think Dublin had shifted its official policy towards pan-nationalism.

“When you are playing brinkmanship you have to watch you don’t go over the edge. Which means that they would alienate unionism, not just political unionism but the general unionist population, a situation they and no one else needs,” he added.