Bloody Unionists and the Irish Language
Language 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.
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.