A move to grant the Irish language official status in Northern Ireland should have been dealt with at Stormont, a UK minister for the region has said.
Speaking in Parliament, Lord Caine said it was “a matter of regret” this was not the case for the draft cultural legislation, in the absence of the devolved institutions.
There has been strong criticism by unionists at Westminster of the Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill.
It has been making its way through the House of Lords, amid a continuing impasse over forming a new Executive in Belfast following May’s Assembly election.
The DUP has said it will not nominate ministers until the UK Government takes action over its concerns around the Northern Ireland Protocol.
The post-Brexit trade arrangements agreed by the UK and EU as a way to maintain a free-flowing Irish land border have created economic barriers on the movement of goods between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, causing resentment and anger among many unionists and loyalists.
Legislative protections for the Irish language in Northern Ireland were a key plank of the New Decade, New Approach agreement that restored powersharing in January 2020 after a three-year stalemate.
The draft laws also propose two commissioner roles – one for the Irish language and another for the Ulster Scots/Ulster British tradition.
An Office of Identity and Cultural Expression would also be established “to promote cultural pluralism and respect for diversity”.
Speaking at the Bill’s report stage, Lord Caine said: “This really should have been dealt with in the Northern Ireland Assembly and not within this Parliament.
“It is a matter of regret that this is the case.”
The Northern Ireland minister added: “I remember first-hand the period from 2017 to 2020 when these issues paralysed politics in Northern Ireland and led to a prolonged lack of functioning devolved government.
“It was a particularly frustrating period and I am very sorry that we are going through a similar period now, which I hope will be much shorter lived than last time.”
Once the Bill has cleared the upper chamber it will go to the Commons for further consideration by MPs.
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