North's language legislation ‘to be introduced at Westminster before Stormont poll’

North's Language Legislation ‘To Be Introduced At Westminster Before Stormont Poll’
The Stormont parties were unable to agree to introduce cultural and language legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly which was part of the New Decade New Approach (NDNA) deal. Photo: PA Images
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By Rebecca Black, PA

Legislation around culture, identity and language for Northern Ireland will be introduced at Westminster before the Stormont election, Conor Burns has said.

The Northern Ireland Office minister indicated it would be better passed before the poll, so it does not “become a contentious element of what is already going to be a pretty contentious election campaign”.


Mr Burns also indicated that in terms of controversial proposals over dealing with the past, the government is “considering next steps incredibly carefully”.

The Stormont parties were unable to agree to introduce cultural and language legislation in the Northern Ireland Assembly which was part of the New Decade New Approach (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.



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 if Stormont did not.


“The legislation is pretty much ready… it remains our commitment, but we’re obviously disappointed it wasn’t taken forward as an NDNA commitment where it sat with the Executive and the Assembly,” he told the committee.

“I can’t give you a specific time… the Secretary of State was genuine in his desire to bring it forward by the end of October, we didn’t do that for a variety of reasons, other business, timing, matters politically, but we remain committed to the undertaking that we’ve given, that were it not legislated for in Stormont, we will do it here in Westminster and that remains the case.

“I think what I can say very candidly is that it is our expectation that this is not going to be passed by Stormont before the end of the mandate and that we are absolutely expecting that we are going to have to do this in Westminster, and we remain committed to bringing this legislation forward in Westminster.

“I think we can all agree, it is definitely the government’s view that it would be a good thing if this was completed and didn’t become a contentious element of what is already going to be a pretty contentious election campaign.”


Pressed further, Mr Burns said: “It is very firmly the government’s intention that we bring the legislation forward before the elections.”

SDLP MP Claire Hanna referred to a Police Ombudsman report which on Tuesday identified significant failures and evidence of “collusive behaviours” by police following a probe into murders and attempted murders carried out by the Ulster Defence Association (UDA) in south Belfast in the 1990s.

Last July, the government published a command paper outlining its intention to prohibit future prosecutions of military veterans and ex-paramilitaries for Troubles incidents pre-dating April 1998.

Contending the criminal justice route was not delivering for victims, the government said it wanted to move to a new truth recovery model to help bereaved families gain information about the deaths of their loved ones.


Mr Burns declined to talk about the Ombudsman report, saying he had not had the opportunity to see it.

“On the wider legacy proposals, the government produced the command paper in July and undertook to listen to responses to that,” he told the committee.

“We have listened carefully, it’s a very, very complex area, and we remain committed to bringing forward legislation in this area.

“We’ve taken time to try and get it right, to test different options internally, and I think that is the right thing to do.

“Almost whatever you do in this space, some people are going to be very unhappy, and in my meetings with those who have been either themselves direct victims of terrorism or have lost loved ones, often decades ago, the pain is as real as the day it happened, and they live with it every day and often the one thing they want is the one thing that none of us can give them – that’s their loved one back or the experience they had not have happened.

“The victims must be at the heart of what we’re doing and societal understanding and reconciliation must be the objective of what we’re trying to do.

“So we remain absolutely committed that we will bring forward legislation, I can’t say too much about where we are at this precise moment on it, but we have been testing very strongly different options, and we remain committed to publishing the legislation.

“We are considering genuinely very carefully at this stage what the next steps should be in advance of bringing forward the legislation.”

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