Stormont should have dealt with Irish language legislation, says UK minister

A decision to grant the Irish language official status in Northern Ireland should have been dealt with at Stormont, a UK regional minister has said.

Speaking in Parliament, Lord Caine said it was “regrettable” that this had not been the case for the Culture Bill, in the absence of the devolved institutions.

Westminster trade unionists have strongly criticized the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill.

It made its way through the House of Lords, amid a lingering stalemate over the formation of a new executive in Belfast following May’s Assembly election.

The DUP has said it will not appoint ministers until the UK government addresses its concerns over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Post-Brexit trade deals agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a smooth Irish land border have created economic barriers to the movement of goods between Britain and Northern Ireland, sparking resentment and the anger of many trade unionists and loyalists.

Legislative protections for the Irish language in Northern Ireland were a key part of the New Decade Deal and New Approach that restored power-sharing in January 2020 after a three-year stalemate.

The bills also propose two commissioner roles – one for the Irish language and another for the British Ulster Scots/Ulster tradition.

An Office of Cultural Identity and Expression would also be created “to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity”.

Speaking at the report stage of the bill, Lord Caine said: “This really should have been dealt with in the Northern Ireland Assembly and not in this Parliament.

“It is a pity that this is the case.”

The Minister for Northern Ireland added: “I remember firsthand the period from 2017 to 2020 when these issues crippled politics in Northern Ireland and led to a prolonged absence of functioning devolved government.

“It was a particularly frustrating time and I am very sorry that we are now going through a similar period, which I hope will be much shorter than last time.

Once the bill clears the upper house, it will go to the House of Commons for further scrutiny by MPs.

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