Northern Ireland

Sinn Féin welcome Arlene Foster's decision to meet Irish speakers

Máirtín Ó Muilleoir
Image caption Máirtín Ó Muilleoir said he hoped a meeting between Arlene Foster and Irish language speakers would happen soon

Sinn Féin's Máirtín Ó Muilleoir has welcomed DUP leader Arlene Foster's decision to meet Irish language speakers and groups.

Mrs Foster said on Wednesday that she wanted to better understand those who love the language.

She said she wanted to "listen to and engage with those from the Gaelic Irish background, those without the party political background".

Mr Ó Muilleoir said he hoped the meeting would happen soon.

"It's a positive move," he said.

"Anything that encourages dialogue, that encourages conversations, that encourages increased understanding has to be positive."

Stormont's parties have "paused" talks to strike a deal to form an executive until after Easter.

The parties have yet to find a deal almost six weeks after the assembly election.

Image caption Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act

One of Sinn Féin's key priorities in the talks is a guarantee that an Irish Language Act will be enacted.

In February, Arlene Foster said the DUP would never agree to an Irish Language Act.

But she has now said she would meet with "people who genuinely love the Irish language and don't want to use it as a political weapon".

Mr Ó Muilleoir said he hoped she would listen carefully to the views of Irish speakers as they are "united and firm on the need for an Irish Language Act".

"I think that Arlene will find when she meets the Irish language community that they're a very broad church, people with all political views and none," he said.

"She'll find they're united behind the belief that Irish is a shared treasure of our people.

"It's a gift which I think Irish speakers want to share with everyone including, of course, those unionists who haven't yet completed the journey of understanding how important the Irish language is."

He added that it is "too early" to judge where the DUP stands in relation to an Irish Language Act but that the meeting will "be of benefit to her and to the Irish language community".

Irish language group Pobal said it would "gladly accept" Mrs Foster's invitation to meet with Irish speakers and it had written to Mrs Foster to arrange a meeting.

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