Statement by TUV Strangford candidate Councillor Stephen Copper:
“The survey of candidates ability to speak Irish published by the Irish News this morning reveals that demands for an Irish Language Act and increased funding are merely political rather than motivated by a real love for and interest in the language. Just five of Sinn Fein/IRA’s candidates (less than 15%) say they are fluent in the language while in the SDLP just one candidate describes their ability as fluent.
“Across the board just 3% of candidates claim they can speak fluent Irish and none of them are standing for Unionist parties.
“This survey will underscore the belief in many quarters that Irish is being used as a political weapon by Republicanism and that demands for an Irish Language Act are motivated by a desire to undermine British identity in Northern Ireland and promote Irishness.
“Sinn Fein and SDLP representatives would have a great deal more credibility demanding money and special legal status for the language if they actually invested some of their own time and money in learning it.
“It is an undeniable fact that the Irish language already receives preferential treatment in Northern Ireland. Look at what happened when it came to local schools. While Lisnaskea High School was closed for having “only” 140 pupils, an Irish language school has been approved on the site of the old High School with only 38 pupils.
The use of Irish by Sinn Fein controlled councils has already left Unionists ratepayers feeling second class.
“The results of this survey underscore the reality that an Irish Language Act isn’t about concern for people interested in the language but is rather about eroding the Britishness of Northern Ireland and alienating the Unionist community.
“The DUP’s u-turn on funding for an Irish language project on the mouth of the election after days of defending the decision on the grounds that Irish already received preferential treatment is a stark warning to Unionists that the party which once said “never” to power sharing with Sinn Fein cannot be trusted to hold the line on this matter.”