A Unionist Irish Language Act

This is a blog aimed at stimulating debate and does not really even reflect my own views on this subject which are quite fluid.

In addition these views do not in any way reflect TUV policy. By the way, I am not so deluded to presume to be in a policy making role: I am sometimes consulted on the policy for the evening meal and that is about the limit of my policy making. However, the Irish Language is something we should ponder. It may well be that we as unionists come down on the side of opposing an ILA but I do think we need to have considered reasons for so doing and not have opposition as a knee jerk reaction.
Following the St. Andrew’s Agreement there was a requirement to have an Irish Language Act. One of the self proclaimed victories for the DUP has been to prevent this by Poots simply not bringing anything forward. That may well be the best unionist strategy. However, are there any other options for unionists and in which case would they be to unionism’s benefit or detriment?

Of course the first reaction tends in unionist circles to be Irish language: Bad. This is the language of the murderers of our kith and kin. The language spoken at the funerals of those terrorists who died, the language spoken by SF members as a kind of annoy the Prods mantra, the language used by Ruane to avoid answering questions for as long as possible. The most classic comment is of course: Every word spoken in Irish is a bullet fired in the cause of Irish freedom or whatever other nonsense was spouted.

However, think briefly on this. Irish is actually just a language, a means of communication. It is structurally very similar to Scots Gaelic spoken by those excellent fundamentalist Prods in the Outer Hebrides. It is the language written in by our illustrious leader on slugger: Mick Fealty and no one apart from the utterly barking would call him a republican terrorist or cheerleader. Other parts of the UK have local languages which do not necessarily coincide with the desire to break their parts of the union. Some Tories in Wales speak Welsh.

As such what might unionists gain from an Irish language act?

Well if we stall forever might (just might) the British government impose one on us. I know it is a devolved power but remember: Westminster is still sovereign. If there was one in place (and one to our liking) how likely would Westminster be to bother to change it?

Secondly a unionist inspired ILA might completely out manoeuvre SF. It would at a stroke defeat a significant amount of the MOPEry on the subject. It might actually contain very little of substance. I am sure it could be written in such a way as to produce very little change, yet it would have been done. If SF tried to modify it we could simply veto such a move. Yet they could not be seen to block the Act in the first place. Conceivably it might even undermine SF’s claim to be the champion of Irish.

Finally it would be a reasonable way to look reasonable and be seen to be reaching out without necessarily compromising.

Of course all that is very well but I am sure that SF would simultaneously denounce the act, manage to indulge in a good MOPE and say that it was a sign of unionists weakening in their resolve to maintain the union. Also any future SF culture minister would very likely use the ILA to impose more and more political Irish via ministerial decree hence, by passing the mutual veto.

As such, and actually a little reluctantly I am inclined to agree that Poots is probably wisest, from a unionist viewpoint, to deal with this issue by studiously ignoring it. It may amaze people but on this I do wish there was some mechanism by which a sensible and honourable compromise could be achieved.

Now I will leave unionists to denounce me as a traitor to the cause and nationalists to denounce be for being an evil bigot. Do have fun.

This author has not written a biography and will not be writing one.

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