Curious, wasn’t it? Nelson McCausland’s choice of language to highlight his ‘concern’ over a letter sent to primary school principals throughout Northern Ireland, inviting them to consider including an Irish language study programme in the school curriculum.
According to Nelson, this was another effort by Sinn Féin to “weaponise” the Irish language and to use it as a tool, it seems, to entice unionists to be assimilated within an Irish identity.
Apart from the fact that the letter was sent by the Council for the Curriculum, Examinations and Assessment, hardly a hotbed of republicanism, the use of the loaded, ahem, term, ‘weaponised’ brought me back to the heady days of 2003 when George W Bush, Tony Blair and Colin Powell were issuing apocalyptic warnings about weaponised chemicals in Iraq. One costly invasion and an even more expensive occupation later, those weapons which had the potential to hit London within ’45 minutes’ remain unfound, if they were ever there.
It hardly seems likely that John O’Dowd, however omnipresent and omnipotent he is as education minister, saw the letter. Less likely still that he ordered the letter be sent as part of some overall Sinn Féin conspiracy to assimilate unionists into an Irish identity.
It was interesting to note that Nelson’s intervention actually backfired on him as BBC Talkback was inundated with angry Protestants – including Sammy from the Shankill Road – wanting to take up Irish classes as a response to the statement from the North Belfast MLA.
Nelson should note that the ‘Every word of Irish is a bullet’ mantra that was spouted by Sinn Féin in the 1980s, to the chagrin and distaste of most Irish speakers, is now only of historical importance – to him the relevance seems hysterical…
The hostile reaction of Protestant callers to his radio performance is unlikely to make the former Culture Minister desist from his ongoing onslaught against the Irish language. However it’s becoming more and more clear that his gambit is self-defeating. It’s not Sinn Féin that’s weaponising the Irish language at present – whatever could be said about that party’s activities in the past – but Nelson McCausland and his colleagues in the DUP.
In the coming days, however, (today, Tuesday, in fact) as the Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure begin a third consultation process on an Irish Language Act which was part of the deal made at St Andrews by Sinn Féin, the DUP and both the British and Irish Governments, we should see hear even more ‘weaponised’ language from Nelson. He should take comfort in the fact that the new Gaeltacht minister in the Republic of Ireland, Heather Humphreys, has been caught trying to further downgrade An Ghaeilge in the planned celebrations next year of the 1916 Easter Rising.