Sinn Fein to nominate O’Neill as UK makes Irish language vow

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Sinn Fein will nominate Michelle O’Neill as deputy First Minister at Stormont after party president Mary Lou McDonald said she received a commitment from the UK Government to legislate for Irish language protections at Westminster.

Ms McDonald earlier said she was going to meet Secretary of State Brandon Lewis late on Wednesday as her party and the DUP attempted to avert a fresh political crisis at Stormont.

Mr Lewis flew into Belfast earlier in the day for talks with local politicians, saying he was exploring “all options” in efforts to keep power-sharing on track.

At 12:22am on Thursday, Ms McDonald tweeted: “The British Govt has tonight agreed to legislate for Acht Gaeilge.

“This is the only way to break the cycle of DUP obstruction of rights. Sinn Fein will nominate @moneillsf as deputy First Minister. We have important work ahead.”

Mr Lewis told reporters he was “disappointed” the Stormont Executive had not brought Irish language legislation forward in the assembly.

“However, following my intensive negotiations with the parties over the last few days, I can confirm that if the Executive has not progressed legislation by the end of September, the UK Government will take the legislation through Parliament in Westminster,” he said.

“If that becomes necessary, we will introduce legislation in October 2021.”

Ms McDonald said following legislation by Westminster “we expect that (Irish language) commissioners will be in place by March 2022, perhaps even earlier than that, but certainly within the mandate of the current assembly”.

Earlier, Sinn Fein members left Stormont around 7.30pm in a three-car-convoy, which drove past the media without stopping for comment, despite members previously indicating they would.

DUP leader Edwin Poots and First Minister designate Paul Givan left a meeting with Mr Lewis at around 8.45pm. The pair also drove from Stormont House without speaking to the media.

Edwin Poots announces ministerial team
Paul Givan outside Stormont (Liam McBurney/PA)

The meetings came amid a stand-off between Sinn Fein and the DUP over the appointment of a new First and deputy First Minister, and the introduction of Irish language legislation provided for in the New Decade, New Approach deal.

Former DUP leader Arlene Foster’s resignation as first minister on Monday set a seven-day clock running within which her successor, Lagan Valley MLA Mr Givan, must be appointed.

The joint nature of the office Mrs Foster shared with Ms O’Neill in the latter’s first term as deputy First Minister meant Ms O’Neill was automatically removed from the post on Monday and had to be nominated for the role again within those seven days.

However, Sinn Fein had made clear it would not renominate, a move that would collapse the devolved Executive, unless the DUP agreed to press ahead with legislating on the Irish language.

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