Does Northern Ireland exist in the Dublin newsroom?

A good friend of mine and I were ruminating over the changes that have taken place in Northern Ireland over the past decade when our conversation turned to the always thorny question of language and more specifically what this place is or is not called.

You will all remember the Conor Murphy ‘here’ and ‘there’ debate last year and Nigel Dodds insistence that the North does not exist!

Paul McErlean, the friend in question, is an Ulsterman man. An accomplished inter-county footballer and Sigerson Cup winner he is one of a growing number of people who consider themselves Northern Irish. I’d say Paul considers himself Irish too but his regional identity is important to him and he will defend it with passion.

He’s not alone. The more nationalists and unionists I meet under the age of 40, the more Northern Irish I know. They will defend their opinions on the national question to the hilt and demand equality and parity of esteem for their politics and culture. But they also share an allegiance to this region without prejudice to their wider national identity. They are quiet happily Northern Irish and Irish, Northern Irish and British or simply Northern Irish.

This brings me to Paul’s issue with language and how the media in particular use it.
He find’s ‘The North’ (particularly with a capital N) a bit lazy and more than a bit incorrect – and it still annoys him that the Irish Times and RTE use it. “Phrases like Northern Secretary and The North” are not accurate he argues. My dad a lifelong republican used to find this term equally annoying. “Is the real North not Donegal?” was his favourite retort.

Whatever about the technical accuracy or the legal niceties I do agree with Paul that never seeing Northern Ireland written by an Irish Times scribe or ‘officially’ uttered on RTE is a bit strange and well out of touch with the events of the past decade.

Mr McErlean also points out that ‘The Republic’ doesn’t exist either – Ireland or The Republic of Ireland are the names of the state. Indeed I remember a significant issue emerging during the drafting of the Good Friday Agreement because southern officials were insistent that the Republic of Ireland be referred to as Ireland. Something that went down like a lead balloon with the SDLP who argued, like Paul does that it refers to the geographic entity that is the island and that it’s lazy and somewhat insulting to Irish people in Northern Ireland. The same argument applies to unionists who use the word Ulster as if Cavan, Monaghan and Donegal had been airbrushed out of existence.

So, whatever your preferred colloquial name for Northern Ireland, and we all have our alternatives – I’m partial to the North, fact is the overwhelming majority on this island have signed up to making this region work. Northern Ireland is a region of Ireland, a region within the United Kingdom and a region of Europe. It has a power sharing government, is one half of the North – South Ministerial Council and plays a full role in the British Irish Council.

Maybe the time has come for our great papers of record to recognise this and use language which reflects the growing sense of region without prejudice to its inhabitants differing national allegiances and their right to self determination as guaranteed by the principle of consent and the Good Friday Agreement.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    “Whatever about the technical accuracy or the legal niceties I do agree with Paul that never seeing Northern Ireland written by an Irish Times scribe or ‘officially’ uttered on RTE is a bit strange and well out of touch with the vents of the past decade.”

    RTE broadcasts as the ‘National’ broadcaster of Ireland – and that seems to mean all 32 counties – presumably that is written somewhere in their charter. They rarely use the term United Kingdom, unless presumably ther are directly quoting someone else and usually use the term Britian. I have always presumed they have strict guidleines on this issue which would make interesting reading – probably with a seperate section for Derry (city and county) with a big warning saying those who who do not follow these guidleines will be dismissed.

    Post GFA the concept of ‘Ireland’ as an entity including the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ is offically agreed upon by the 2 governments and it presumably easier for RTE to defend its position from those who may wish to criticise it.

    p.s. They have a (bad) habit on the still (poorish) RTE website of referring to the ‘British Lions’ from time to time.

  • Mack

    While they are at it, could they please stop refering to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea as ‘North Korea’?

    I think there is little harm, in media outlets using short-hand alternatives when refering to Ireland as ‘The Irish Republic’, ‘The Republic of Ireland’, southern Ireland, ‘The Repbulic’ etc.. as long as the where they are talking about is clear..

  • exile

    What about northern Irish?

    [i]Whatever about the technical accuracy or the legal niceties I do agree with Paul that never seeing Northern Ireland written by an Irish Times scribe or ‘officially’ uttered on RTE is a bit strange and well out of touch with the events of the past decade.[/i]

    RTÉ use the term ‘Northern Ireland’ as often as ‘the north’ or ‘northern’ in my experience.

  • Mack

    Conall –

    Indeed I remember a significant issue emerging during the drafting of the Good Friday Agreement because southern officials were insistent that the Republic of Ireland be referred to as Ireland. Something that went down like a lead balloon with the SDLP

    I remember chatting to a constitutional lawyer at a party who highlighted a similar issue in drawing a contract between an British firm (who operated across the island) and a southern firm. In order to have the intended legal force the state had to be refered to as Ireland, which I think caused an issue for the British firm as they were using Republic of Ireland in their documents to make a distinction between the sourthern state and their entire Irish (island-wide) operations.

  • Conall and Mack, check out this.

    Fionnuala McKenna uses the Irish government terminology for the title of her article whereas the UK terminology appears on the illustration.

    Do you suppose both documents were lodged with the UN? 🙂

  • slug

    RTE do use the term Northern Ireland and I think its use in the Dublin media is on the rise. However I do think that it should be used more often.

  • “Northern Ireland is a region of Ireland”

    Conall, Northern Ireland is a region of the ‘island of Ireland’ in Dublin civilservicespeak.

    Poor Bertie used to get tangled up in his ‘Ireland’ and ‘island of Ireland’ references.

  • Todd

    RTE do use northern ireland, but I think thats down to appeasing unionists, they just couldn’t be bothered with putting up with all the complaints.

  • Tochais Si­orai­

    The Occupied Territitory….The North…..The north of Ireland….North ahem Ireland….Norn Iron….Northern I….

    Nope, will be struck dead by lightning if I say it.

  • Mark Simpson

    (slight tangent alert) It’s not RTÉ’s only “house style” issue – their insistence on the term “euro” as a plural infuriates me.

    It’s the equivalent of talking about “forty seven pound”.

  • Mack

    Mark –

    The European Commission (I think) decided that the plural of Euro and Cent is, well, Euro and Cent. Documentation was sent around to households in the south detailing the nomenclature (and that the plurals did not take an ‘s’ around the time of the change over). The European Translation style guide, states however that it is acceptable to use Euros and Cents…

    http://ec.europa.eu/translation/writing/style_guides/english/style_guide_en.pdf

  • Mack

    Here’s a whole load of articles on that subject – The original directive did state the plural was Euro .

    http://www.evertype.com/standards/euro/

  • Dec

    It’s the equivalent of talking about “forty seven pound”.

    Do you carry Five pounds notes around with you?

    Conall

    He find’s ‘The North’ (particularly with a capital N) a bit lazy and more than a bit incorrect. “Phrases like Northern Secretary and The North” are not accurate he argues.

    This coming from the same person who insists on telling everyone he meets he’s from Northern Ireland. What a muppet.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Nevin,

    re. your link to AIA – hadnt noticed “Gearoid Mac Gearailt” as a signatory previously, perhaps that was all part of a plot to confuse Thatch and get her to sign something she later regretted.

  • Mark Simpson

    The original directive referred to legal documents (which as they would be used across borders, said they should commonly use the term “euro”) and said that the normal usage in a country should be the natural plural, which in English is euros. Not euro.

    Conall;

    I have one five pound note. I have two five pound notes. The plural in that case is in the “notes”.

  • Coll Ciotach

    The castle catholics will no doubt revel in the term, as they role on their backs to get their tummy tickled.

    I recall Breige Gadd writing an article in her column in the Irish News on this issue some time ago. But she still did not get the qunago job she was after if I recall correctly and yes – she did write about that in her column which made me smile.

    The move to build up a Northern Irish identity in order to strengthen the border has been in motion for quite a time and will not get anywhere except with those who see their particular interests serving the British.

    I would prefer our representatives to refer to the occupied counties as the occupied counties and bbe done with it. No point accepting the language of the opposition, unless of course you are defeated and accept the defeat.

  • Jamesy

    Who’s surprised that the Irish media are behind the times? They’ve always been slow to catch up, 400 years to be precise, as is evident when they call Londonderry, ‘Derry’.

    The stubborn nature of the Irish will always be their downfall.

  • Jonrus

    I think it’ll be a sad day when ‘Northern Ireland’ becomes the common term for the North amongst Irish media.

  • Mike

    Conall

    Interesting piece.

    I’m a unionist, and my primary identity is Northern Irish. I’m British too, but my Northern Irishness definitely comes first.

    On the use of ‘Northern’ – I always think it’s ironic that SF spokespeople engage in the doctrinaire dropping of “Ireland” (and “Irish”) of all words, in for example the Northern Ireland Assembly (“Northern Assembly”) and Northern Ireland Executive (“Northern Executive”).

  • My first preference is the north. Then it’s The Six Counties.

    In ‘sensitive company’ I call it this part of the country and I’ve never been brought up about it. Indeed those ‘light blue unionists’ alway speak to me about Ireland and make no distinction about north-of or south-of the border.

    Please note my use of upper case letters is deliberate. Secondly, it’s not a trivial issue especially in a polarized society with insititutionalized symbolisms from placenames (Derry’s official misnomer) to public areas given British names and none from the actual area being named !!

  • When the euro was introduced there was a bit of discussion as to what the plural should be. I remember Pat Kenny doing a segment on it. At the time we were assured that there was no correct usage – either euro or euros would be correct.

    Kenny said that he’d stick with euros (I’m not sure he has), but RTE adopted euro as the plural. Other radio stations followed suit. And that was that. Most people soon adopted the language used by RTE. Very few people use euros these days (at least that’s the case in south county Dublin).

  • Mike

    Sammy McNally

    “Post GFA the concept of ‘Ireland’ as an entity including the ‘North’ and the ‘South’ is offically agreed upon by the 2 governments and it presumably easier for RTE to defend its position from those who may wish to criticise it.”

    Surely it’s precisely the opposite that’s the case?

    It was only with the GFA that the UK government agreed with the Irish government on using “Ireland” to refer to the 26-county Republic of Ireland. Prior to 1998, I would say almost all of us, unionist and nationalist alike, could have agreed on the fact that Ireland was the island.

    Conall

    Very interesting as well that the SDLP argued with the Irish government on the use of “Ireland” to refer to the Republic of Ireland. It would of course be an affront to nationalists to say that they’re “not from Ireland” – however would you detect among some nationalists a liking for being able to refer to Ireland’s foreign policy, Ireland’s membership of the EU or the eurozone, or having Ireland on a passport, and sort of compartmentalising the fact that the “Ireland” in question is the state, not the island.

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Mike,

    the GFA text below with something for everyone, as you would expect.

    Being form the green side of the consitutional equation I go with Ireland to mean North and South – as does RTE.

    “for the people of the island of Ireland alone, by agreement between the two parts respectively and without external impediment, to exercise their right of self-determination on the basis of
    consent, freely and concurrently given, North and South, to bring about a united Ireland, if that is their wish, accepting that this right must be achieved and exercised with and subject to the agreement and consent of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland”

  • John on Sep 02, 2009 @ 03:15 PM “…Very few people use euros these days (at least that’s the case in south county Dublin). “

    Sorry to disappoint but having travelled thro Europe and a lot of Ireland (ie. the 32 counties) I can report that euros is, by far, the more common in comparison to the singular.

    As if proof be needed that south county Dublin can make an error and be led by the nose by Montrose….(shaking head & thinking “way too easy “). ;>

  • Being form the green side of the consitutional equation I go with Ireland to mean North and South

    You’ll find many unionists who will happily agree with you. Calling the 26-county state “Ireland” without qualification is simply incorrect, and confusing to boot (what am I to make of my mobile phone contract which says I get free calls to land lines “within Ireland”?). Just because the southerners insist on using inaccurate terminology doesn’t mean we northeners (of whatever political stripe) should indulge them. 😉

  • eranu

    the old ‘not saying the proper term for things’ is what i would call the old fashioned ‘being biter’, either to be more nationalist or more unionist. this is fading away as this sort of thing becomes more ridiculous over time.
    people from Northern Ireland referring to themselves as Northern Irish is entirely accurate and follows standard worldwide naming conventions. after a process of normalisation you would expect to end up with something along the lines of worldwide norms.

    there does seem to be an element, mostly in Northern Ireland, that seem to be stuck in old fashioned ‘biter’ language. its as if they think that using the proper term ‘Northern Ireland’ or referring to themselves as ‘Irish’ (geographical not nationality), will cause a complete collapse of who they are and what they are about, or something as dramatic as that..
    On political TV panel discussions, have you ever seen anything more ridiculous as a fast paced debate where one or two people are trying their best to ‘not say Northern Ireland’? it often seems as if they have to concentrate hard to avoid letting a ‘Northern Ireland’ slip out!
    i find observing the lengths some people go to ‘not say Northern Ireland’ to be extremely amusing. Check out slugger for starters 🙂
    the one that makes me cringe with embarrassment (by association) the most is where someone from Northern Ireland is on TV saying they arent Irish. i saw Nelson McCausland doing this once, totally embarrassed us all…

    as for the ROI being called Ireland. i think calling a country the same name as the island it is on when it only covers part of the island is pretty stupid. they should have been forced to use a different title that included the word ‘Ireland’ somewhere. a bit like how those sensible Northern folk named their state Northern Ireland when they set it up..

    as for euro/euros, in english i think the correct plural is with an s on the end? if those mainlanders want to say euro then thats up to them, we should be preserving our own localised language. if we dont, then the next thing you know you’ll be putting the euro symbol at the end and using a ‘,’ instead of a ‘.’ !!! if they dont understand us then they should have their state hire an interrupter for them and have all official documents printed in our language aswell as their own!!!

  • gabrielle

    “a bit like how those sensible Northern folk named their state Northern Ireland when they set it up..”

    Obviously, the British Gov. learned something from the Ireland situation when dividing India with the Pakistans. Mind you, India didn’t have to change its name to facilitate the minority. Bear in mind that the Irish Constitution dates back to when the ‘free-state / southern ireland / ROI’ had a territorial claim on Ulster/6 counties etc. etc! To change the name of the Irish State for the GFA might have just stretched everyone’s patience (and pockets) too far.

    Having worked for a newspaper some years back, the policy was to use the term Northern Ireland in the opening paragraph/headline and then refer to it as the ‘north’.

    By the way, RTE’s uses the term ‘Northern Ireland’ for phone-ins/texting/quizes, Joe Duffy etc.

  • Todd

    Well with Re-unification only about 15 years away, we should be planning all these issues out now. athough this one won’t take that long to sort…

  • Itwas SammyMcNally whatdoneit

    Eranu,

    I personally dont have a problem with Northern Ireland (sounds geograpical enough to me)but as for putting the dreaded L prefix in front of Derry county or city then large amounts Euro(s) would be required and only then in the privacy of my own home with no witnesses.

  • eranu

    lol sammy 🙂 try and imagine that London is a good republican village in a gaeltacht area ‘down south’ then im sure you wont have a problem with saying Londonderry 🙂

  • Niall Gormley

    The state of ‘Ireland’ is wrong to claim the word ‘Ireland’. But so too is the state of Northern Ireland as northern Ireland is everything north of a point close to the town of Athlone.

    The word ‘Ireland’ should be reserved for all things that include the whole island like the rugby team.

    As for those supine Irish refusing to honour the English plural of ‘s’ – what a bunch of sheeps!

  • eranu on Sep 02, 2009 @ 06:44 PM ” ….as for the ROI being called Ireland. i think calling a country the same name as the island it is on when it only covers part of the island is pretty stupid”

    I think it stems from the policy and attitude of the Stormont Govts, UTV and BBC-NI constantly imposing Britishness on the population of the Six Counties. In turn the ROI Govt and media awarded themselves the nationality of Ireland.

    Previously it was never an issue for unionists until recently when post AIA, Good Friday when they realized that they were unwanted by Westminster and most of the population of London. Birmingham, Manchester etc they had to find a pigeon hole which now included the term Ireland/Irish.

    Officially those of the Sick Counties wanted nothing to do with these terms and now they’ve the nerve to harangue Dubliners about their adoption of the terms for the last 40 years… wind yer neck in !!!! Few south of the imposed border justify a lecture about anything from unionists or nationalist (even those playing for Sigerson teams) about much.

  • There is the minor matter of a written constitution

    “THE STATE

    Article 4

    The name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland.”

    The UK started using the correct names after Dublin Courts threw out incorrectly named extradition warrants

  • borderline

    “those sensible Northern folk named their state Northern Ireland when they set it up.”

    They don’t seem that sensible to Inishowen folk.

  • Borderline:

    So what would you suggest instead? No pejoratives.

    (This post’s verification word is “british”. How apt…)

  • Logo

    Conall, you linked to your own site… again.

  • Andrew Gallagher ” So what would you suggest instead? No pejoratives.”

    Antrim and North Down………. as in the United Kingdom of Great Britan, Antrim and North Down. You know that this is the only section of the Six Counties maintaining the Protestant majority franchise envisioned by Carson and Craig when the statelet was being set up. The Unionists Elders have basically given up on west-of-the-Bann since the ’81 election in Ferm-So.Tyrone; Derry was abandoned a long, long time previously. Armagh, which holds so much symbolism (cathedrals & Dan Winter’s cottege) was ‘defended’ (by the Glennane Gang) for so long and is now abandoned; this news hasn’t yet been communicated to the embarassing Willie Frazier yet

    Even still there’s the anominally of Belfast (almost 50% green), Moyle, Rasharkin etc

  • borderline

    What would I suggest instead?

    Well I grant you that’s a tough question.

    What would you call six counties out of nine, nine of thirty-two, starting in the north-east and working south-by-south-west, as there planter forefathers did before them?

    You got me there AG.

  • Aitch

    Well Northern Ireland is a country in the figment of some peoples’ imagination