Her Majesty’s challenge for the opponents of Irish

A Uachtaráin agus a chairde.

There were many significant elements to the speech given by Queen Elizabeth II in Dublin Castle yesterday and these five words were certainly among them. Not because of their meaning, but because of the language in which they were delivered.

For centuries it was the policy of the British establishment to rid the Irish people of their Gaelic tongue and, for most of the population, they succeeded in their goal.

It is slightly ironic therefore that a British monarch would address the Irish people in the native language of the island but the gesture should not go unrecognised. Indeed it opens up an opportunity for many people, especially here in the north, to reaccess their perceptions of Irish Gaelic and of the language movement in general.

Unionist hostility to Irish is an issue that still needs to be addressed – it was only in February that a Belfast City Councillor was jeered and shouted down for using the language in the Council Chamber, hardly the sign of a progressive and inclusive society. Everybody of course has the right to their opinion but debate should be based on fact and on the reality of Irish Gaelic in 2011, not on outdated prejudiced perceptions.

So if Queen Elizabeth II can show respect for the Irish language and its community, will certain Unionists now be able to do the same?