Liofa 2015- what’s to lose?

Northern Irish sports stars are apparently to be “targeted” but thankfully this time it is with something more benign than letter bombs or online hate messages:

Sports stars targeted in Irish push 

Northern Ireland’s police service and a string of sporting bodies are being asked to back a plan to create an extra 1,000 Irish speakers by 2015.

Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin will ask high-profile figures, plus members of the public, to agree to try to become “liofa”, Irish for fluent, by the target date.

 The Sinn Fein minister said she hoped “Liofa 2015” would attract people from across the political divide and said the Gaelic language should be seen as belonging to all communities.

 She may hope away, at least as far as Jim Allister is concerned:

Mr Allister claimed Sinn Fein’s “divisive anti-British vendetta” is to use departmental office, money and facilities to promote their language agenda.

He added: “In historical culture Irish has its place, but as a living and working language it is a non-starter in the 21st century, whether it be the Long Kesh variety that the minister speaks or the real thing which she and her Sinn Fein colleagues emasculate every time they fumble and mumble through the mantra they have adopted as the introduction to everything they say.”

In the interests of transparency, I should say at this juncture that I contributed an article this week to the Irish language paper Gaelscéal (there’s a little segment of it here). The editor had asked for my written opinion of this summer’s events, which he then kindly translated. I was more than happy to do it partly because it meant that a demographic which perhaps rarely would be exposed to a “normal” (or let’s say, “normal-ish”;)) Unionist point of view would be getting to read one and secondly because I personally have no problem with the Irish language as a… well, language.

The Irish language in itself obviously isn’t “anti-British” and to date it has never actually murdered anyone because of their politics, religion or national identity.

But is it “divisive”?

As a language, an abstract, again obviously not. Its employment within certain contexts (e.g. at terrorist funerals) and the fact it sometimes forms part of a narrow ethno-nationalist tick-list as to what comprises “real” Irish identity most definitely hasn’t helped its image amongst Unionists. But that Unionist antipathy (and yes, occasionally also bigotry) is largely the fault of Ms Ni Chuilin’s present and erstwhile “comrades”, not of the language itself.

So, I would personally be prepared to give “Liofa 2015” a chance. As far as I’m concerned, the ball’s in Ni Chuilin’s court and, from a Unionist point of view, if the Sinn Fein Minister plays to usual party form and the language remains within its present cultural ghetto, then we’re in no worse position than we are in today. However, it might, just might, also open completely new doors for those of us willing to explore further another element to our identity, culture and history and to write off that possibility at this stage seems premature.

It may also mean in future that rather than giving poor Ciaran migraines with having to translate my mangled English, I can express myself fluently in equally mangled Irish…


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