Speaking from Westminster, Carla Lockhart said:
“This is yet another example of how the devolution settlement is set aside at the whim of the Government of the day, if deemed politically expedient to do so.
Language and identity are extremely sensitive issues within Northern Ireland. Sensitive because they mean a lot to sections of our population, whether that be those who cherish the Irish language and identity, or those for whom their Ulster-Scots identity and language is fundamental to who they are and how they express themselves.
The legislation will only result in language and identity being a more potent weapon, that causes greater damage to community relations and cohesion at a time when many of us wish to see a more united community, focused on healing division, not aggravating it.
Furthermore, there is a deep lying, and justified suspicion within the Unionist community that the unfettered and undemocratic powers in this Bill that are given to the Secretary of State have only been taken, and will only be used, to appease the demands of the most vociferous, and the most divisive elements within the language and identity lobby.
This being the case, it is not possible for us to support legislation in which there are no safeguards to address the concerns of Unionists, and indeed those of a non-Unionist persuasion who do not subscribe to the radical agenda of the language and identity lobbies. We rightly question whether the vast amount of public money set aside to assuage those demands is the best use of finite public resources.
If an Executive is restored, it will have an in tray of issues that will come at unprecedented cost to the public purse – delivering the Bengoa reforms to our health service, investment in schools, addressing historic underfunding of special educational needs, GPs, social neglect and substance abuse. Yet what this legislation will do is take money from these priorities – that impact on all of us regardless of identity – and add further strain to the budgets of public authorities. What is more important – a bed for a cancer patient or an Irish or Ulster Scots translation of a public document that can be read by all in English.
The DUP will oppose this bill unless the Government address Unionist concerns, and we will be continuing to engage with the Government in this regard in the days ahead.”