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15 February 2018

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DUP were prepared to accept Irish language act - McDonald

"We had a draft agreement by the end of last week. At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved." - Mary Lou McDonald

The draft agreement reached between Sinn Féin and the DUP in the Stormont negotiations shows that the DUP leadership accepted an Irish language act. 

Details of the draft agreement was revealed today by Sinn Féin in a press conference in Stormont after the DUP claimed they had not agreed to Irish language legislation. 

Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said copies of the draft agreement would to the British and Irish governments and that other parties would be briefed on what it contains. 

Today's anouncement from Sinn Féin proves that an Irish language Act had been agreed between Sinn Féin and the DUP, as well as legislation dealing with Ulster Scots and Culture. 

The agreement would have given official recognition to the Irish language in the north and paved the way for the creation of an Irish language commissioner. 

It is also understood the parties also agreed on major transformation of the health service, including progressing the Bengoa report.

A committee would have also been formed to review the use of the Petition of Concern mechanism in the Assembly, a controversial tool which has been used by unionists in the past to block marriage equality. 

Speaking in Stormont today, Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald said it is clear that it was the DUP who walked away from the deal. 

"We had a draft agreement by the end of last week. At that time we advised the DUP leadership that the deal should be closed before those opposed to it could unpick what we had achieved.

"We made it clear that if there was a delay there was every chance that the package would unravel.

"The DUP failed to close the deal and went on to collapse the talks process," she said. 

Mary Lou McDonald continued: "The draft record included an Irish Language Act, an Ulster Scots Act and a Respecting Language and Diversity Act.

 "The Irish Language Act included provision for official recognition of Irish, the creation of an Irish Language Commissioner. The repeal of the ban on Irish in the courts was also to be legislated for. 

"It did not involve at any stage making Irish compulsory or applying quotas to public services. This was not a consideration.

"There has been no meeting of minds on Marriage Equality.

"We anticipate that this issue will be fully considered by the Assembly in the form of a Private Member’s Bill and it is acknowledged that no party alone can table a Petition of Concern.

"There was also agreement to review the abuse of the Petition of Concern and establishing a committee to look at the Bill of Rights.

"Separate from the agreement between the DUP and Sinn Féin we had a commitment from the British government to put to consultation the legacy mechanisms agreed at Stormont House and release the funding requested by the Lord Chief Justice for coroner’s courts.

Sinn Féin accepted the DUP proposals on sustainability of the institutions.

"There was agreement that the British government will legislate so that the Justice Minister is elected in the same manner as other ministers for the Assembly elections in 2022.”

Sinn Féin Vice President Michelle O'Neill said the British and Irish governments now need to move to implement agreements already made. 

"We are calling upon them to establish the British Irish inter-governmental conference as soon as possible," she said. 

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