Ulster Unionist Peer Lord Empey has responded to comments by Declan Kearney in which he said that implementation of an Irish Language Act ‘is central to parity of esteem, and proper, official acceptance of the Irish national identity in the North of Ireland.’
Lord Empey said:
“Declan Kearney’s comments bear close scrutiny. He says that ‘Sinn Féin’s strategic project is to transform Irish society’ and goes on to say that‘During the summer and since, DUP, UUP politicians and other extremists in political unionism…’ in Sinn Fein’s usual condescending tone.
“Sinn Fein clearly need reminding that they are not the gatekeepers of equality and human rights. The record of republicans is simply appalling and if they really want to talk about rights and equality, let them also talk about Bloody Friday, La Mon, Kingsmills, Claudy, Enniskillen, Warrington, Jean McConville and Tom Oliver. And we must never forget that Sinn Fein were willing and enthusiastic apologists for decades of human rights abuses perpetrated by the IRA.
“It is hard to escape the conclusion that this is less about recognition and more about trying to impose an ideology that decades of brutal terror could not. One might reasonably ask the question that if this was so central to republicans why did they not ask for an Act during the 1998 negotiations?
“Declan Kearney has said that the implementation of an Act ‘is central to parity of esteem, and proper, official acceptance of the Irish national identity in the North of Ireland.’
“It is clear that this is no longer about the Irish language being some sort of ‘shared treasure’ it is about the Irish language as part of the Irish national identity and a particular definition of it.
“The sub-text is clear. Those who do not speak Irish or who do not regard it as part of their identity and heritage are not truly Irish.
“Here we have it. Sinn Fein talk of respect but they cannot even bring themselves to say the words Northern Ireland.
This is completely contrary to the Belfast Agreement which recognised ‘the birthright of the people of Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both, as they may so choose.’
“Sinn Fein needs to understand that they do not get to define who or what is Irish. It seems that Sinn Fein is desperately trying to pursue De Valera’s ideal of recreating a mythical nation of true bred gaels, fluent in their ancient tongue – a tongue precious few of them can speak. The absurdity of their position is highlighted at every Sinn Fein press conference when a question is asked in Irish and the scramble begins to find an Irish speaker in the Sinn Fein ranks.
“Sinn Fein’s obsession with an Irish Language Act is quite clearly not about uniting the people of Northern Ireland - it is about dividing them.”