Irish Language issue still has (crocodile) teeth

Crocodile Image copyright PACEMAKER
Image caption Arlene Foster originally made her "crocodile" quip while vowing there would be no Irish Language Act

If labelling Sinn Féin as "crocodiles" was the Arlene Foster phrase that stuck at the start of the spring assembly election campaign, then the DUP leader was determined not to make the same mistake again at the outset of the Westminster battle.

The ad lib "crocodile" comment emerged during answers to the press, so the DUP's Gavin Robinson was only half joking when he advised party activists that the longer they cheered the better, as it would cut down the time for those pesky enquiries from reporters.

Mrs Foster originally made her "crocodile" quip after vowing there would not be an Irish Language Act under her watch.

On Inside Politics last week, I questioned her several times about whether this remained her position - she did not repeat the formula, instead insisting that few people other than political activists had told her they wanted such an Act.

Questioned by the Newsletter's Sam McBride, the DUP leader clarified she had ruled out an Irish Language Act "in the context of nothing else happening in terms of culture and language".

She emphasised the need to respect all cultures in Northern Ireland, including "the Ulster Scots, the Orange and British cultural identity".

She added that any moves forward had to be within this overall context.

This change of tone on the Irish language appears to imply greater flexibility in the negotiations on restoring devolution due to recommence after the Westminster election.

A senior DUP figure told me: "There's a deal there to be done, provided Sinn Féin want to do it."

Previously the DUP suggested a "Public Duties Act," which would have incorporated both the Irish and Ulster Scots languages and the implementation of the Military Covenant.

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Image caption The latest Arlene Foster comments may point to a compromise

That was rejected by both Sinn Féin and the SDLP, on the grounds there should be a stand alone Irish Language Act.

The latest Arlene Foster comments may point to a compromise, which would see an Irish Language Act introduced alongside separate legislation dealing with the Ulster Scots, Orange and British identity issues the DUP leader highlights.

However, movement on the language issue is not going to take place without Sinn Féin dropping its refusal to share power with Mrs Foster until she's cleared of responsibility for the Renewable Heating Scandal.

It's now clear that Sir Patrick Coghlin's inquiry into the Renewable Heating Incentive Scheme (RHI) will take at least a year if not longer.

It's unimaginable the DUP leader would contemplate sitting on the sidelines for such a lengthy period.

Will Sinn Féin moderate their position on the RHI in the same way that Mrs Foster has changed her tone on Irish?

Or will they add to their "red lines" perhaps by elevating the importance they attach to other matters, like EU Special Status for Northern Ireland after Brexit or the introduction of same-sex marriage?

What the candidates and party leaders say during this campaign should provide us with plenty of clues about whether the next round of talks is for real or just another exercise in going through the motions.