Home > General Politics > Bloody Unionists and the Irish Language

Bloody Unionists and the Irish Language

Edwing Poots, dessicated old fartLanguage has always been a political football in Northern Ireland. As language and culture have been weapons in the hands of the nationalist movements in Scotland and Wales, so in Northern Ireland, the Irish language is a weapon in the hand of Sinn Fein.

Despite my dislike for Sinn Fein, I must confess to some sympathy for their wishes in regard to the Irish language. After all, though by sheer accident, Irish was and is the indigenous language of the island of Ireland – and a significant body of literature, poetry and polemics exist in that language.

That’s not to say I’m a Gaelic Revivalist; that movement was all too connected to cultural Conservatism and brought Catholicism along on its coattails. Yet still, I do feel that Irish speakers should have certain rights in respect to the Irish language. Particularly, and most strongly, I feel that they should have the right to communicate with all the organs of the state in Irish should they so choose.

Many Irish speakers in Northern Ireland send their children to Irish-only schools, to perfect the fluency of their children in this language. Some deliberately holiday in areas that are Irish-speaking, the Gaeltachtai. They will know the shops in which they can speak in Irish.

Though they cannot speak Irish in every aspect of life, as it is not so widespread as that, it is my view that they should expect to be able to correspond with the state in their native language. They should be able to speak Irish if called to Court, they should be able to fill forms in Irish and so on.

I will not indulge in the often-heard pompous speculation on how this ability might defuse Nationalist desires to be independent of the UK etc. That is not my concern in this case. I am not a Nationalist; I do not believe in a change of borders while capitalism still exists. What should be highlighted, however, is the flagrant abuse and ridicule which Unionists have heaped upon the desire for equality of status in languages.

Though few will say it outright, it is evident in their behaviour. The attempt to establish Ulster Scots, essentially a dialect of English spoken by six farmers somewhere in Antrim, as a language on par with Irish is an example of just this unspoken disdain.

When I lived in the North, I regularly listened to David Dunseath’s programme on BBC Radio Ulster, known as Talkback. When the matter came up, a suspicious number of Unionist politicians would be on the telephone to the show, speaking of how under-represented Ulster-Scots was on road signs etc. Essentially Ulster-Scots was used  as a political tool to undermine the unequal status of Irish and English in the North.

The DUP, never known as a bastion of progress, have been at the forefront of this, though rarely has the matter gone beyond populist mutterings to extend into the chambers of the Stormont Assembly. That changed yesterday with the announcement by Culture Minister Edwin Poots. Apparently Poots and his party, the DUP, are not in favour of an Irish Language Act which would firmly outline the responsibilities of the Assembly and local government to Irish speakers.

The St. Andrew’s Agreement of 2006 declared:

“Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish Language.”

Poots and his party, signatories to that agreement, have now reneged on their part in it. The justification Poots gave in his speech yesterday was the cost of such an act. He objected to the fact that £20.62 million was spent in the last fiscal year by the NI Civil Service and NI Office, of which some £10 million was spent on education in an Irish medium. Poots’ speech to the NI Assembly can be found on his Departmental website.[1]

It is my view that the financial argument is largely bogus; a smokescreen to bolster political support for the DUP, who will as a result of this be seen as standing up to Nationalists.

According to the Minister’s own speech; the costs would be an additional £3.4 million on top of the £20.62 million figure. What the Minister’s speech does not easily admit is this; the £20.62 million does not include amounts already spent in the Court service and so on. Thus this additional £3.4 million is a nominal figure, and the real increase in spending would be lower.

Not that I would like to argue with the calculations of senior Civil Servants, nor cast aspersions upon their political opinions, but it is probable that there are ways around spending so much money annually; rather the Minister’s proposed cost is largely a set-up fee. A small price to pay to humble the ignorance and arrogance of Ulster’s Unionists.

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Categories: General Politics
  1. October 18, 2007 at 4:59 am

    Does the UK or Northern Ireland have an official language?

    We don’t have one in the U.S., which generally means that government has to offer translators and such for official government business, and offer numerous forms in multiple languages.

    It’s a pet issue of anti-immigration people over here, who want to have an official language, primarily so that they can block government services to non-English speakers.

  2. October 18, 2007 at 8:22 am

    English is not the official language, though like America it is the de facto official language. Irish, Scots-Gaelic, Welsh, Cornish and, dare I say it, Ulster-Scots all have minority language status – and Irish, Scots-Gaelic and Welsh are recognized as minority languages by the EU which puts the government under certain obligations to those languages.

    The UK is under no obligation to offer the services discussed on a rational, regular basis as opposed to on an ad hoc basis. Yet my feeling is that much in the way we increasingly have Chinese translators etc, it would be better to put the Irish language on the same pegging as Welsh. In Wales, the Bwrdd yr Iaith Gymraeg is charged with ensuring that in the conduct of public business, English and Welsh are treated equally.

  3. October 22, 2007 at 2:23 pm

    LOL, Hi Dave!

  4. Joel Anderson
    February 25, 2008 at 10:26 pm

    The Irish language act is an absoultute joke! Why should our just devolved government spend £10 million on changing the sign posts to include the Irish equivilent, when only 1.3% of Northern Irish people speak it? Surely you can see how big a waste of public money this would have been. I would not support Edwin Poots if he decided to appease Sinn Fein. This would be much better spent on other things in his department and i stongly disagree with your comment of the finacial reason being “bogus.”
    Secondly, Edwin Poots had a resounding majority supporting his decision. On the day he give his speech, he recieved a petition of over 3,000 names protesting against the idea. Both unionists and nationlists signed it. Sinn Fein had contrasting petition of only 500 signatures.

  5. February 25, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    Who the hell cares about petitions? I stood on street corners in Belfast gathering thousands of signatures against the war, against water charges and against capitalism. The only thing that ever changed was water charges and the only reason was because, having approved it via white paper, the assembly was forced to backtrack by a huge public outcry. There is no concomitant public outcry about this issue except on David Dunseath’s daily showcasing of Northern Irish bigroty.

    Also if you’re going to challenge my figures, let’s see some evidence?

    I don’t know where you’ve come up with the figure that only 1.3% of the population know Irish – the 2001 census says about 10% know Irish, and the feedback on the census was worst in rural areas, which are precisely those areas in which Irish is known relatively widely.

  1. October 27, 2007 at 6:41 pm

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