Arlene Foster seeks cultural deal in move to restore N Ireland powersharing

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Arlene Foster has called for a new cultural deal and laws supporting the Irish language and Ulster Scots as part of the immediate restoration of Northern Ireland powersharing.

The largest party in nationalism, Sinn Fein, has insisted it will only return to devolved government at Stormont after receiving assurances around a stand-alone Irish language act.

In a major speech on Thursday night, DUP leader and Tory ally Mrs Foster said laws should be introduced in Belfast to address cultural and language issues within a "time-limited" period. Unless they enjoyed cross-community support the troubled institutions would fall yet again.

She warned unless agreement can be found between the Stormont parties direct rule from London could be speedily reintroduced.

She said: "I am putting forward a common sense solution that can give us the Executive we need and resolve outstanding issues."

Powersharing has been suspended since early this year when late Sinn Fein deputy first minister Martin McGuinness resigned in protest at the DUP's handling of a botched green energy scheme which risks landing the taxpayer in millions of pounds of debt.

Talks aimed at restoring the institutions are due to resume on Monday led by the British and Irish governments, with some prominent DUP MPs warning a return to direct rule from Westminster could be looming.

The DUP is propping up Theresa May's minority Conservative Government with support in key votes in exchange for a £1 billion spending package.

Mrs Foster said: "I am proposing that we restore an Executive immediately. Put ministers back into posts so that decisions can be made and that Northern Ireland can have a government again.

"But we also agree to bring forward legislation to address culture and language issues in Northern Ireland within a time-limited period to be agreed. If we fail to do that in a way that commands cross-community support then the Executive would cease to exist."

She added: "We must establish a new cultural deal to provide a comprehensive and long-term approach to the sensitive issue of identity."

DUP leader Arlene Foster. (Brian Lawless/PA)
DUP leader Arlene Foster. (Brian Lawless/PA)

Mrs Foster met Irish language enthusiasts earlier in the year in a bid to better understand supporters who are not politicised.

She said: "We have nothing to fear from the Irish language nor is it any threat to the Union. We have previously supported practical measures for the Irish language and we will do so again if we can reach a wider agreement on these matters.

"However what we cannot and will not do is simply agree to one-sided demands."