How the DUP handles plans for an Irish Language Act will indicate whether power-sharing in Northern Ireland will work or is doomed to failure, Gerry Adams said tonight.
The Sinn Féin leader said the issues of equality involved in the debate over legislative protection for Gaelic speakers were the same as those at the heart of the current impasse at Stormont.
The West Belfast MP said DUP opposition to an act was indicative of the party’s unwillingness to fully sign up to the principles of partnership and equality.
He was speaking after a meeting with DUP Culture Minister Gregory Campbell.
Mr Campbell’s predecessor and party colleague Edwin Poots ruled out an Irish Language Act citing its prohibitive costs.
He instead committed to furthering the interests of Irish speakers through a minority language strategy.
However Sinn Féin claim the full Act is required by the terms of the 2006 St Andrews Agreement, upon which devolution was set up in the North last year.
The failure to proceed with an Act is one the main issues – along with the devolution of policing powers, post primary education and plans for a multi sports stadium at the former Maze prison – that has led to the deadlock at Stormont, where the Sinn Féin/DUP-led executive has not met for four months.
“I think while it (the impasse) can be easily sorted out at the same time you (with the Irish language act) are actually at the root, at the nub of what will either trip these institutions up or make them work – and that’s equality and partnership, the lack of that or the presence of it,” said Mr Adams.
He said while he was not encouraged by what Mr Campbell said during the hour-long meeting at Parliament Buildings he sensed the DUP would eventually relent on the issue.
“I have to say by his demeanour and the things he said I’m not encouraged that the minister sees himself as the minister of all the people, I’m not encouraged that the minister is going to be a champion of the rights of people who are Irish speakers,” he said.
“But I think just watching his demeanour, and this is just an impression, that he knows in his heart it’s only a matter of time.”
Meanwhile, Mr Adams told the Assembly today that a major new strategy must be formed to combat alcohol-fuelled crime and anti-social behaviour.
The West Belfast MP called on the Office of First and Deputy First Minister to lead a major push to co-ordinate Government departments and policing policies to make life better for communities ravaged by crime.
“Community safety is one of the most important and pressing issues facing our society,” he said.
“Anti-social and criminal behaviour, young women assaulted, cars hijacked by thugs, our elderly being terrorised in their homes, citizens being badly beaten and stabbed, murder.
“Every citizen has a right to a safe environment. This Assembly has an obligation to create this environment.
“We are failing to do this.
“I believe we have the ability and the potential to legislate better and more effectively on these matters than any British direct rule Minister. We also have the right to do so.”
He highlighted the need to find new ways to prioritise community policing and cited commitments made in the Criminal Justice Review which he said had yet to be delivered.
Mr Adams raised concerns over drinking in public and the issue of how repeat offenders are handled in the courts.
“Many local communities are distraught by the inability of the criminal justice system and statutory bodies to contend with prolific offenders,” he said.
“Many communities also feel that there are inconsistencies in the application of police bail and court bail.
“Bringing in legislation is crucial to tackling these matters, although some important steps can be taken now.”
Mr Adams highlighted the success of schemes which brought local communities together with statutory bodies, criminal justice agencies and the police.
“For decades some local communities have been developing strategies and promoting policies to eradicate poverty, poor health, low educational achievement and lack of community resources. Social justice and the rights of citizenship demands this,” said Mr Adams.
“It also makes good sense in the battle against crime.”
He added: “It is an opportune time for the development of an inter-departmental, multi-disciplinary strategy, aimed at reducing harm and promoting safety in local communities.
“Given the cross-departmental focus it requires, even if we had a Justice Department this can best be done through the Office of the First and deputy First Minister.”