The Digital Border and the Euros

As we approach the vote on 23 June to decide whether or not the UK remains in the European Union, an increasing amount of the discussion has focused on the possibility of the erection of border posts along the boundary between Northern Ireland and the 26 counties should Brexit become a reality.

However there’s a very real border on this island already and it’s not been voted on at all. It’s what I call the digital border and as another European contest gets underway at the weekend, we will see the outworking of this as viewers sitting down to watch RTÉ coverage of the Euro 2016 with, for the first time, Irish language commentarywill be told ‘this programme is not available in your region’.

Back when the Good Friday Agreement was being discussed, most people in Belfast I know had TV aerials pointed southwards in order to watch the two RTÉ channels and, as it was then, Teilifís na Gaeilge, now TG4. No doubt they also watched BBC, UTV and Channel 4. Back then very few had a Sky subscription and satellite dish and others were connected to cable services.

Now digital TV rules. The southern facing aerial no longer work in the same way they did as the signal has been digitised and encrypted. Only if you have the appropriate TV equipment can you watch programmes in Belfast as if you were watching in Cork, where I’m from, or other points south of the border.

In the Good Friday Agreement there was a guarantee given about the right of everyone in Northern Ireland to identify themselves as Irish or British or both. If this is to mean anything it must mean I can support the Republic of Ireland football team in Belfast with the same facility as I would in Cork. If I can watch the match in Cork with the option of Irish language commentary I should be also be able to do so in Belfast.

Because the Irish language is involved also worth noting is the added guarantee that the British Government would take ‘resolute action where appropriate and where people desire it to promote the Irish language’.

So here’s an opportunity for resolute action to promote the Irish language and to show flexibility to circumvent a development which was unforeseen by politicians when they agreed the Good Friday accord text which they put to – and secured a mandate for implementation from – the people north and south.

With little more effort than that called for in a few phone calls between Belfast and Dublin, BBC NI could arrange to take the RTÉ Irish language commentary and offer it via their ‘red button’ to viewers in the north who might not be able to watch the match with Irish language commentary otherwise. If the Belfast based public service broadcaster wanted to go the extra mile it could arrange for Irish language commentary for Northern Ireland’s matches and offer it as an option in the north and to RTÉ for its coverage south of the border.

That could go some way to reducing the chill factor which many viewers in the north feel with relation to the Northern Ireland football team. I wish Michael O’Neill and his squad the best in the European Championships but I’m a Republic of Ireland supporter if and when it comes to a clash between the Green and White Army and Martin O’Neill’s team! Imagine how showing the Northern Ireland games with commentary as Gaeilge would support that team’s supporters, a small but growing number of whom are opening up to learning Irish thanks to the efforts of Linda Ervine and others.

Sporting organisations such as the GAA, the IFA, the FAI and the IRFU should in the future stipulate in their contracts with broadcasters that an option for Irish language commentary should be offered by whichever broadcaster wins the rights to cover their games. After all they all claim to be looking for greater audiences and this is one cost effective way towards realising that aim.

In the meantime, I’m getting ready to watch with many others the coverage of both Irelands’ first games in the European Championships. On Monday, thanks to a recently installed Saorview box and the decision by RTÉ, we will be able to watch Ireland take on Sweden with commentary as Gaeilge in An Chultúrlann. We’ve gone the extra mile, it’s now time for BBCNI and other local broadcasters to catch up.

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  • Ernekid

    RTÉ has always treated its Northern audience shoddily. The lack of an island wide Digital Radio service is baffling.

  • Roger

    A “boundary between Northern Ireland and the 26 counties”.
    I always struggle with the idea that people can’t bring themselves to call the state “Ireland” 18 years* after GFA and all that respect and parity of esteem stuff.

    79 years after it took the name in the first place.

  • Reader

    Your argument is with RTÉ isn’t it? According to the linked article they cite “contractual reasons”. Can either the BBC or the British Government override those reasons?

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    It’s illogical to call the 26 counties Ireland as Ireland is the entire island of Ireland. On the other hand Brexit refers to Britain and Northern Ireland is not part of Britain. Geopolitical anomalies.
    If the GFA means parity of esteem and if that means I should call the 26 Counties the Republic of Ireland then I want to know why the Irish language is still not being shown parity of esteem and the provisions within that accord remain unfulfilled.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Easily. The BBC own the rights for ROI v Swe. The BBC can provide the Irish language commentary option via the red button the same way they do for Welsh in Wales. They can even use the RTE commentary.

  • Sprite

    Have a look at the members states of the United Nations. You will find Ireland is the name of the state and has been since 1955.

  • Jollyraj

    I’ve always favoured the designations of Northern Ireland for the land on the British side of the border, and ‘Ireland proper’ for the Irish side of the border.

  • chrisjones2

    You can get it if your subscribe and pay

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I’ve no intention of getting distracted by side issues but there is no ‘British’ side of the border on the island of Ireland. Britain is ‘over there’.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    No. You can’t get the commentary as Gaeilge except to buy a saor view box. Why shouldn’t local broadcasters like BBC NI and UTV offer an Irish language commentary option – their Welsh equivalents offer commentary in Welsh as an option for Wales’ games after all?

  • Reader

    1) Maybe the BBC has other uses for the red button.
    2) Why can’t/won’t RTE provide the Irish language broadcast – and how does the Saorview box change the contractual situation?
    3) Is there a radio station with an all Ireland reach that could provide a live Irish language commentary? (live is live, after all – unless the Irish commentary is a translation of an English commentary instead of straight from an Irish speaking commentator. There would be a bit of a lag then. Which way will RTÉ work this?)
    4) What would be the contractual basis for the BBC to access the RTÉ Irish language commentary? Would it cost?
    5) Do RTÉ viewers in Cork need a Saorview box to watch the match with an Irish language commentary?

  • hgreen

    The bbc red button is being scrapped. In the era of smart TV there’s no need for it.

  • Reader

    The island is called ‘Great Britain’. The word ‘Britain’ on its own has many uses. Nearly as many as the word ‘British’.
    And I think the word Brexit uses “Br” to stand for “British” rather than “Britain”. So if Brexit happens, I don’t think your quibble will stop Northern Ireland leaving the EU.

  • Reader

    There’s a hell of a lot of Welsh speakers in Wales.

  • cu chulainn

    “The southern facing aerial no longer work in the same way they did as the signal has been digitised and encrypted.”

    This isn’t true, if anything the reception of digital TV is better than the old analogue. Anyone with an RTÉ aerial before digital TV can still get it.

  • cu chulainn

    In fairness it is not within RTE control to provide services in NI. It s the domain of useless politicians to set up the framework for these things.
    A good instance is that RTE player is available in general throughout the island of Ireland (other for this type of content) but people still cannot access it as their ISP indicates that their IP number is in Lancashire! Yet people whine about RTE and do not complain to their ISP or their MLA.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    The red button is for extra digital content – which is what an option of Irish language commentary is.
    RTE will provide the Irish language commentary for the jurisdiction south of the border. The BBC own the rights for the match north of the border. A radio commentary, even if it were available, isn’t sufficient. Radio is a different medium from television. This is the digital age – we’re going forward not back.
    It’s not beyond the wit of RTE and BBC NI to work out a mutually beneficial arrangement which would be cost effective. The cost involved would be minimal.
    There’s a hell of a lot of Irish speakers in Ireland too – and in Northern Ireland.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    In the era of smart tv, there should be no problem in accommodating the option of an Irish language commentary.

  • Zig70

    I would maybe get exercised about RTE in the north if it wasn’t so shite. Turn it on in the evening and it’s EastEnders and reality TV. In the morning it is Teleshopping on RTE1, says it all. Anyway, I get saorview, sorted.

  • mac tire

    “The island is called ‘Great Britain’. The word ‘Britain’ on its own has many uses. Nearly as many as the word ‘British’.”

    Fine and dandy for you. Britain, as you know, is England and Wales. You obviously know what Great Britain is.

    Britain and Great Britain is indeed, as Concubhar says, ‘over there’.

  • Roger

    “If the GFA means parity of esteem and if that means I should call the 26 Counties the Republic of Ireland…”.

    No. It’s Ireland. It’s name is not Republic of Anything. It’s not complicated either. It’s also in the GFA too.

    You can take whatever subjective perspective you like on names. But Ireland is the state’s name. That’s not an opinion. Just a fact. My opinion is that parity of esteem extends to respecting a state’s choice of name. Perhaps you disagree.

    On an aside, if one were to explore the topic of logic in terms of names on the island, it’s odd you don’t seem to struggle with Northern Ireland. It is located to the south of Ireland.

  • Roger

    I think ‘Ireland proper’ is perfectly fine. But I’d only ever use the ‘proper’ bit where it was actually needed though. That’s rare. In this instance, the words “boundary between Northern Ireland and the 26 counties;’ were used. Had ‘boundary between Northern Ireland and Ireland’ been used instead, the meaning would have been perfectly clear. No need for ‘proper’ there.

  • Jollyraj

    2) one suspects the demand for Irish language commentary just isn’t there. Same old argument: if they wanted to provide a second language translation, Polish or maybe even Hindi would be further up the list than Irish.

  • Jollyraj

    Do you yourself speak Irish?

  • Reader

    Concubhar O Liathain: Radio is a different medium from television.
    It is indeed. I am not suggesting anyone should miss out on the picture, just that they could get the sound from the radio as well. So long as both the picture and the sound are live, all is well, surely?
    On other issues – aren’t there many, many more people use Welsh as their first language in Wales than use Irish as their first language in Northern Ireland?
    Widening things out a bit – are RTÉ doing a live Irish language commentary for the Northern Ireland matches, and should the BBC do that? And, supposing they did, would you watch?

  • Reader

    mac tire: Fine and dandy for you. Britain, as you know, is England and Wales.
    With all the many uses for the word Britain on its own, you have made up a new one entirely. Got a linked example?

  • Ciarán

    your best bet for fixing this Concubhar is probably the current draft directive from the European Commission on the supply of digital content across Europe.

    Essentially the Commission want to make it much easier for citizens to access and buy content from anywhere else in the union and end the practice of geo-blocking. In their words, they aim to “facilitat[e] access to legally paid for cross-border services (e.g. allowing a resident of one Member State to access online content currently available only to residents of another Member State) while safeguarding the value of rights in the audio-visual sector.”

    These proposals though are being fought by rights holders because they make lots more money selling tv rights on a country by country basis. Unfortunately none of this is going to help you come Monday.

  • Old Mortality

    You could listen to the Irish radio commentary while watching the match on BBC withe the sound turned off. I know many cricket followers like to listen to TMS on the radio while watching silent coverage on whatever channel now shows live test cricket. That’s a practical solution but then you’re probably no looking for one.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    The notion that Irish speakers should be happy if we get the sound from the radio and the picture on the TV comes from the Jurassic era it seems to me. Even if there were Irish language commentary available on the radio – there isn’t on RTE anyhow – commentary on events for radio is different from commentary for television. The sound doesn’t necessarily synch with the picture. If we weren’t in the digital age, when commentary in any language can be made available as an option via the red button or on your Smart TV, Irish speakers could put up with such inconveniences, – we have often in the past – but there’s no reason why we should do so now. This service could be made available at very little cost and with great benefit. In terms of Northern Ireland’s games, I think this should be something that could be done too. There are growing numbers of loyalists learning Irish thanks to the work of Linda Ervine and I’m fairly sure they support Northern Ireland. Why shouldn’t they have the option of watching with commentary as Gaeilge Perhaps also it could encourage more ROI supporters to set aside historical rivalry to lend their support to the NI team….

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I speak Irish. I don’t think people have actually assessed whether the demand is there or not as this technology is new and the possibility wasn’t entertained before.

  • Paul Hagan

    “Imagine how showing the Northern Ireland games with commentary as Gaeilge would support that team’s supporters, a small but growing number of whom are opening up to learning Irish thanks to the efforts of Linda Ervine and others” Well to be honest, many of us had to learn it at school, but it rarely made much difference. For me in supporting the use of a minority language to cover big events such as this media is very important but it doesn’t reduce the importance of a good underlying education system. If you look at S4C for example it’s very good at showing Wales’ most popular sports (football & rugby) in Welsh, the FAW has also made good use of the Welsh language in its branding. This has been made possible not only by the relevant media but also by the education system which has given support to welsh medium schools. Social media is also very relevant, I think minority languages have to use social media and following big sporting events is one way of doing so. Failte Romhait

  • Jollyraj

    What technology is needed? Get a fluent Irish speaker to commentate, and show the match in Irish on one channel and English in the other, if that’s what people want. It would then be possible to collect data on how many watched with Irish commentary, and how many with commentary in English. That will give a rough picture of the demand.

  • Katyusha

    It’d been expecting this post to be about some new concept for a smart border / soft border in the case of a Brexit.

    “Digital border” has a nice dystopian sci-fi ring to it.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I suppose the point I’m trying to make is that those learning Irish need to see it in a relevant setting. That adds to the motivation to learn, in my view.

  • Paul Hagan

    Fair enough, Adh Mor Ort with that! Agus An Arimn faoite agus glas abu! (promised I would think of a football slogan without having recourse to google, and have no fadas on my keyboard)

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Well then you have to dismantle the whole border in order to facilitate all Ireland broadcasting of the game by both BBC NI and RTE. I’m all in favour of that, of course, but, in the short term, I feel my proposal is a simpler solution….

  • Petronius

    As a Southerner I’m hoping the reintroduction of border controls will reduce illegal immigration down here. 96% of illegal immigration to the South comes through NI. I’m also very concerned though that the opposite could happen, with EU nationals who want to live in an English speaking country overwhelming us and leaving the UK for the Republic.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I don’t see the relevance of your post to this thread….

  • Devil Eire

    Here you go, from the British Ordnance Survey:

    Technically, if you lose the ‘Great,’ Britain only refers to England and Wales.