Sinn Fein says the UK government has agreed to legislate for Irish language protections at Westminster by October, paving the way for agreement at Stormont on power-sharing in Northern Ireland.
The matter has been at the centre of a row that threatened to prevent the resumption of shared rule following the resignation of DUP leader Arlene Foster.
Sinn Fein deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill was automatically removed from her post on Monday following Foster’s departure and she must be nominated to the role again within seven days.
However, Sinn Fein has made clear it will not renominate — a move that would collapse the devolved Executive — unless the DUP agrees to press ahead with legislating on the Irish language.
Irish language laws are an unfulfilled commitment within the 2020 deal that restored power-sharing at Stormont.
New DUP leader Edwin Poots has vowed to implement all outstanding aspects of the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) deal, including Irish language legislation — but has declined to promise it within the current Assembly mandate.
Speaking in Belfast in the early hours of Thursday, Sinn Féin president Mary Lou McDonald said: “Tonight the British government has agreed to legislate for Acht na Gaeilge and the cultural package at Westminster. This will happen in October with Commissioners appointed by March 2022.
“We told the British government that this is the only viable option to deliver these rights as the DUP were unwilling and incapable of delivering on their commitments. It is deeply regrettable that the DUP chose to block rights in this way for so long.
“Tonight we have broken through all of that.
“Irish speakers have been waiting for fifteen years for basic rights and recognition to be delivered. This is important for Irish language speakers and for wider society because power sharing is based on inclusion, respect and equality.
“There is an important responsibility on the Irish and British government to ensure no further delay.”