DUP’s Jonathan Buckley slams UK Government for being ‘tone deaf’ over commitment on Irish language

Northern Ireland Minister Conor Burns has been slammed for being “tone deaf” to the “concerns of unionism” after confirming legislation containing Irish language provision will be introduced before the upcoming Stormont election.

he criticism was leveled at Mr Burns and the Northern Ireland Office by DUP MLA Jonathan Buckley, who claimed unionism here was “at its wits end”.

The MLA told the BBC’s Nolan Show the minister and other Stormont parties have “cherry picked” the New Decade, New Approach agreement – the deal signed in January 2020 which restored power sharing.

Mr Buckley argued the UK Government should instead be focused on “getting to grips” with the Northern Ireland Protocol issue.

The comments come after Mr Burns indicated legislation around culture, identity and language would be better passed before the poll in May, so it does not “become a contentious element of what is already going to be a pretty contentious election campaign”.

The Stormont parties were unable to agree to introduce cultural and language legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly which was part of the NDNA deal.

The plans include an Office of Identity and Cultural Expression to promote respect for diversity as well as an Irish Language Commissioner and a commissioner to develop language, arts and literature associated with the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition.

Mr Buckley argued any one part of the agreement “should never stand in isolation from another”.

“I suppose unionism cannot be surprised by the approach of the Northern Ireland Office and indeed Conor Burns’ comments at the committee,” he told BBC Radio Ulster.

“Let’s face it, this is a Conservative and Unionist Party that has been tone deaf to the concerns of unionism for some time.

“If this protocol and Irish Sea border is not sorted and if unionists’ concerns are not addressed, it does not bode well for a future returned settlement.

“Unionism is at its wits end with hollow commitments from Her Majesty’s Government on the Northern Ireland Protocol.”

The resignation of First Minister Paul Givan means no new legislation can be introduced at Stormont.

Giving evidence to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Mr Burns said Westminster was committed to act around language if Stormont did not.

Mr Buckley added: “Here we have a Northern Ireland Office minister and many political parties who want to see NDNA cherry picked for their own advantage.

“Whilst I respect everybody’s rights to value a language, to participate in speaking a language – my concern primarily is the constitutional and economic impact of the Irish Sea border on the people of Northern Ireland.”

The NIO has been asked for a response to Mr Buckley’s comments.

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