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  1. ITV Report

DUP leader plays down concerns over Irish language act

DUP leader Arlene Foster has dismissed any suggestion of a standalone Irish language law emerging from Stormont's power-sharing negotiations.

Mrs Foster said rumours about what legislation might look like were "not grounded in any sort of reality".

She has insisted her party would not sign off on a stand-alone Irish Language Act - a key Sinn Féin demand throughout the 13-month impasse.

She also ruled out any laws that would require bilingual road signs in Northern Ireland; compulsory teaching of Irish in schools; or quotas of Irish language speakers within the civil service.

"There won’t be a standalone Irish language act, I’ve always made that very clear and I continue to say that that is that case.

If we were to get into a situation where that was the deal breaker, then I’m afraid it would be the deal breaker because we are not going to have a free-standing Irish language act.

– Arlene Foster, DUP

“I have listened very carefully to what society has been saying right across the place, I’ve been engaging with those people who are Irish language speakers and of course I’ve been listening very firmly to what my own community has to say around all of this,” Mrs Foster continued.

“What I’m trying to is find an accommodation that recognises Irish language speakers and their place in society in Northern Ireland, but also very firmly recognises the rights of those who don’t want to engage with the Irish language and therefore that will help explain why bilingual directional signs, for example, are a complete non-starter, because how could you impose those on the majority of Northern Ireland, who frankly do not want to see them and do not want to engage with the Irish language.”

Sinn Féin wants a standalone piece of legislation to protect speakers - an Irish Language Act - but the DUP has long insisted it would only countenance new laws if they also incorporate other cultures, such as Ulster Scots.

The DUP need to make up their mind up about whether they up for a deal or not.

– Conor Murphy, Sinn Féin

Sinn Féin’s Conor Murphy said that an Irish Language Act was essential to any deal to restore the political institutions.

“The talks are at a critical stage and Sinn Féin’s focus remains on achieving a deal to restore the political institutions,” he said on Tuesday.

“However they want to describe it, the DUP know that agreement requires an Acht Gaeilge.

“This is a time for leadership and calm heads and there is a responsibility on all involved not to react to some of the noise from people who simply don’t want an agreement.”

The mood music emerging from the negotiations has been more positive in recent days, with growing anticipation that a resolution is close.

But the former first minister moved to temper expectations that a deal to restore devolution is likely this week.

"I am hopeful that we will move toward devolution again," she said.

"Whether it is this week, whether it is in a couple of weeks or whether it's in a couple of months what I must ensure is that we have an accommodation that everybody feels content with."

  • WATCH: Paul Reilly reports on what would an Irish language act look like in the eyes of campaigners and why is it proving so contentious in the negotiations.