Earlier this week, it looked as if the DUP and Sinn Féin were set to strike a deal. Now, a debate over the status of Irish has left the outlook as pessimistic as everby Siobhán Fenton / February 14, 2018 / Leave a comment
After 13 months of negotiations between the DUP and Sinn Féin over whether they can agree to return to government in Northern Ireland, the talks appear to have finally come to a dramatic end.
DUP leader Arlene Foster announced in a statement that “there is no current prospect of these discussions leading” to a deal and called on the UK government to begin governing Northern Ireland in the absence of local politicians being able to take their posts.
The government collapsed in January of last year, when Sinn Féin pulled out of the previous agreement in protest at allegations that Ms Foster had been implicated in a financial scandal which saw public money misspent. Under the unique rules of Northern Ireland’s post-conflict parliament, one party cannot govern without the other and instead both must rule jointly in a power-sharing partnership.
The parties have spent the last year locked in negotiations over whether they can agree to work together again. As of this evening, the answer appears to be a resolute ‘no’ for the foreseeable future.
Relations between the DUP and Sinn Féin had always been strained during their partnership in government. Since the collapse, these tensions have only escalated—and spiralled into becoming about much more that the public finances scandal.
The sticking point which appears to have proven insurmountable is what position the Irish language should hold in Northern Irish society. The Irish language in primarily spoken by the region’s Catholic or Nationalist community, while few members of the Protestant or Unionist community do. It holds centuries-long history of being censored by various penal laws and anti-nationalist policies.
Sinn Féin support the Irish language and want to see legislation introduced in Northern Ireland to grant protected status to the language. However, the DUP have been less supportive and some have expressed fears that special status for the language would undermine Northern Ireland’s Britishness and links with the rest of the UK.
The DUP have long fed unionists’ fears about the role of the Irish language. In 2014, a DUP politician shouted “curry my yogurt” in the parliament in an attempt to parody the Irish expression “go raibh maith agat, Ceann Comhairle” (“Thank you, Mr Speaker”) which some nationalist politicians utter during parliamentary debates.