It’s time for the DUP to change its tune on Gaeilge

I was listening to Evening Extra  after a day which began with Paul Givan finding £50,000 to restore to the Líofa bursaries in his ministerial sofa and which featured a marvellous and energetic protest outside his department imploring him to continue his search to see whether he might find the missing Irish Language Act.

It was discouraging, I suppose, to listen to Mairtín Ó Muilleoir, an old friend, refusing to say whether or not his party would regard the introduction of Acht na Gaeilge as a red line issue before Sinn Féin would go back into a partnership government.   Although I appreciate the reluctance of any party giving hostages to fortune which voters could remind them of in future campaigns if these promises aren’t delivered upon, I still felt a little disappointed when he didn’t say it out loud because that’s what is required.  I know or I think I know that’s what he would like to say.   One thing he did say did inspire me, though, and it’s this: that he had spoken with Jeffrey Donaldson about holding events to show a cross community, with the inclusion of republicans, appreciation of the sacrifice of those who died in the Battle of the Somme during that battle’s centenary.  And he delivered on that.   We had numerous events in west Belfast to commemorate the Somme.   He asked how had the DUP reciprocated with relation to 1916.  Not in the same measure, not by a proverbial mile.

Back to An Ghaeilge,  I don’t think I’m alone in the Irish language community – the 300+ strong crowd outside the Causeway Exchange is an indication of the level of support for such a measure – in wanting the introduction and enactment of an Irish Language Act as a guaranteed element of any future power-sharing arrangement.

Call me unreasonable if you want but it’s high time there was such legislation.   Here we are 19 years since commitments regarding the Irish language were included in the Good Friday Agreement and 10 years on from St Andrews which included a commitment to introduce an Irish Language Act.   And we still don’t have an Irish Language Act or sufficient progress in guaranteeing delivery on commitments of the GFA with regard to Irish.  The GFA guaranteed, for instance, adoption of the European Charter of Regional Minority Languages Part 3 in respect of Irish – currently the Northern Ireland Executive is in default of this as it is unable to deliver reports on the implementation for reasons explained before.   In essence where we had progress, now we have regression.   And that’s simply not good enough.

Mairtín and his colleagues in Sinn Féin are at one with most in the Irish language community in terms of a frustration with the ongoing petty insults from DUPers who feel they can offend Irish speakers at will.   Sticks and stones will break our bones but, taken in isolation, names will never hurt us.   However as the recent Líofa incident demonstrated, as well as previous decisions such as the axing by Edwin Poots of the Irish Language Broadcast Fund back in 2007 or the decisions by Peter Weir as Education Minister to close nurture units in Irish Medium schools or refuse their justifiable applications for transfers from one building to another, there is a cutting edge to these insults.

In an interview following Mairtín Ó Muilleoir,  Paul Givan, the Minister for Communities for a little while longer, said that he had decided to reverse the cut to Líofa as he didn’t want to allow Sinn Féin to use that issue against the DUP in the election, he wanted to demonstrate how wrong it was to ‘weaponise’ the Irish language, which he says he respects, and though he recognised that SF would use the Irish language in its election platform, well, he wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of using his decision on Líofa to do so.  Now, in announcing his U-turn, he said the original decision to cut the bursary scheme wasn’t political – it seems clear to me that the subsequent decision to restore it was political.

Here’s a radical suggestion for Paul and his colleagues in the DUP, if you’re really serious about making this election less orange and green and not allowing the Irish language to be ‘weaponised’ as you say, why doesn’t the DUP adapt a positive platform on the Irish language?  Isn’t it part of all our heritage – that includes unionist heritage. Own it. It doesn’t belong to Sinn Féin, you say. I agree. It belongs to us all.  But you must stake your claim.

Look at the work being done by Linda Ervine in East Belfast, a DUP stronghold.  There are Irish classes in many areas which are being attended by people who vote for the DUP.   In an interview the other night Paul Givan boasted that the Irish language was saved by unionists.    Unionists can save it again.

Adapting as a party aim to introduce an Irish Language Act which puts Northern Ireland on the same footing linguistically as Scotland with its Acht na Gaidhlige or Wales with its Welsh Language Act will stun Sinn Féin beyond belief.   Mike Nesbitt and Jim Allister are looking on from the sidelines waiting for you to roll over to Sinn Féin and concede that party’s demands of more concessions to Irish speakers after the election.  That’s what they will be saying on the doorsteps.   That the Líofa decision is a prelude to the DUP making a giant concession after the election to Sinn Féin.

So, get it out of the way.  Get maximum advantage from it.  Make it part of your manifesto.   That the DUP will deliver a practical working Irish Language Act when returned to power. It may lose you some unionist votes – but it has the potential to damage Sinn Féin more than you will ever imagine. It could even smash Sinn Féin. It will help people from all communities forget the unfortunate mess that is the RHI scandal.

This latest episode has caused ructions.  The Irish Times has blamed unionists for the latestbreakdown  – that’s a first in my memory.   If you carry on the way you’re going, you’ll be dealing with a Sinn Féin First Minister in the north and a Sinn Féin Taoiseach in the south.

You could adapt the same tactics regarding gay marriage.   After all it’s in the rest of the UK – surely you want to be like the rest of the UK?  The Irish language and gay marriage aren’t what you’re about, ok, so do like the famous poet said in his poem ‘Daoirse/Absence of Liberty’,  Níl laistigh d’aon daoirse ach saoirse ón daoirse sin/When you accept an absence of liberty, you free yourself from that absence.   Does that make sense to you?

You can get on with Brexit and all the other stuff you’re really interested in.  You might even get the Republic of Ireland to rejoin the Commonwealth.  Now that would be a feather in the cap.   The possibility of achieving a United Ireland would be more distant than ever as one of the main reasons for seeking it, rights and recognition for Irish speakers,  would have been removed as an issue.  In fact it’s probable that the southern establishment, themselves no great advocates of Irish language rights, would build a border wall like that planned by Donald Trump between the USA and Mexico should such dangerous ideas filter southward.

Think outside the box and the current borderlines.  Change the game – before the game changes on you.    This is a challenge to you, no doubt, but it should be easy for the party which broke all its conventions to sit down with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness ten years ago.   Ian Paisley secured his place in the history books – now it should be your turn.

Do I think you’ll take up the challenge?  No, not really.   You’re far too comfortable sitting back on your sofa enjoying the blistering heat from the RHI boilers and anticipating a brutal election.   It will be a brutal election and we will anticipate a brutal outcome along the usual tribal and party lines.  Everything will return to normal. The Sound of Silence will prevail.  Hello darkness, my old friend!



  • SeaanUiNeill

    Alan, utterly in agreement with you! But I’d see their reaction to Irish as simply one aspect of a general distaste for culture itself throughout much of the DUP.

    There was an excellent report published on tourism around 2006 which pointed out that the one strong suit we had for local tourism over and above a few threatened landscapes was our actual culture, the very thing which articulated these landscapes for visitors. The report also identified that this was one of the most lucerative aspects of world tourism, as it attracted those higher spending customers, prepared to undertake longer visits:

    “when you look at culture and heritage in general, and if you look at it in a larger capacity at the global level, 40% of all international visits take in a heritage or culture dimension and the heritage/cultural visitor is, on average, much older than the holiday type,of tourist. That is just the nature of the interest that we have as we go through our life cycle. The culture and heritage certainly appeals to much older people, it appeals to Europeans and it certainly appeals to the North American and Australasian markets, and the idea of short breaks and the idea of activity tourism is certainly more akin to young people, which probably are more European and GB-based.”

    The Irish language has an important role, even a central role, to play here, especially for the three important markets highlighted.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    There is a psychological association between the IRA and SF and SF frequently use Irish in an overt fashion.

    That is not blaming ‘the Irish nation’ but merely stating how things are perceived.

    I honestly don’t understand how people can’t grasp this simple concept, it’s a key stone of the marketing industry.

    Gerry Adams beard, RUC men’s moustaches, Hitler’s hairdo, McEwan’s lager and CR Smith; all of the above have had an off putting effect on some body some where for very obvious reasons.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    If the only time you ever heard English was when old noll or a round head spoke it then you’d build up a negative association of English.

    But i suspect that you’ve heard some lovely people speak in english too?

    For other people the only people they’ve heard speaking in Irish are Shinners and Enya…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Surely it’s more of a ‘Pavlovian ‘ standard than a moral standard?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    “Seaan, why not learn Irish because you wish to use it and to enjoy it – just like any other language?”

    Well, I do, and most others I encounter do. That’s what its all about. Regarding its every day use, I can take an hour of stopping to greet people I know to get from my parked car in a nearby back street to An Chultúrlann on the Falls and hear (and exchange) as much Irish as I do English in the streets. I’m even hearing quite a bit in central Belfast the last five years. And as Linda points out, a familiarity with Irish reveals that we keep hearing English/Lallans words used in a manner which echos Irish gramatic usage, so we’re all speaking it, “bidden or unbidden”, and all that jazz…..

    Otherwise, all your points are perfectly correct, and we are certainly the inheritors of a polycultural hybrid culture. Which perhaps makes it all the more significant to draw public attention to the glaring fact that a strong “purity of race” lobby has developed within the DUP intent on effectively hacking off one of their own cultural limbs! “Every time I hear the word culture, I reach for my surgical saw.” You really couldn’t make it up!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    AG, an aside, have you encountered that lovely little nugget, “Sean Bui”, literally “fair or yellow haired John”? “Fair” (“bui”) is used in the several English language senses here, equitable, handsome, blonde, but as with so many words in Irish it may be used ironically to invoke its exact opposite. So “bui” also suggests fetid rotteness, and cowardice (as with our English “Yellow”). It was a common form to describe the English settlers from the Cromwellian plantations, and although the joke of the inter-linguistic play must have been soon noticed, I cannot get the image out of my head of some “John” preening himself on how well he is thought of by those he has dispossessed.

  • file

    Good luck with that! :):)

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    So why are you posting in Irish now when this thread is in English? Just to be deliberately obtuse? My solution re call centre works well for a member of the public seeking information from the public service/bodies.

  • Cináed mac Artri

    Yes I did.

    You’ve increased my usable Irish by about 5%. Always happy to learn something new. Thanks.

    You’ve also perhaps exposed an acquaintance who claims to be an Irish speaker and regularly used the phrase when we watched football games together in the past. He explained its meaning to me as ‘back of the net’.

    To embarrass him, or not, with my new fluency should it happen again? That is the question.

    In the future I’ll stay on the more solid ground of the ‘Pig-sellers’ Tongue’.

  • Steptoe

    Can somebody tell me if I am missing something, but my take is that there would be no need for an Irish language act if the bill of rights for Northern Ireland was introduced as this contains provisions on language rights, as well assets an abundanc of other rights that is specific to Northern Ireland. Just a pity that the executive never implemented it, I wonder why that was

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I don’t speak Irish and I struggle with English!

    Can I presume that you reach for that saw whenever you see ‘craic’?

    My attention sometimes focuses on words that have down to us via different languages eg wine and vine. Take kilt – switch ‘k’ to ‘qu’ and you’ve got quilt. This suggests to me that perhaps a kilt was formerly a padded garment. My late Norwegian relative was struck by the similarity of plaids in her place of birth to those in, say, Scotland. Plaid seems to have been borrowed into many of our languages but its origins lost in the mists of time.

    Perhaps you or someone else could devise a number of Irish language forms for Whitehall Grange, a newish housing development in Ballycastle.

  • file

    leave your mate alone; it was your spelling that threw me: cúl an-ghlan would mean ‘a very clean goal’ = loose translation of ‘back of the net’. A word for word translation of ‘back of the net’ is ‘cúl na heangaí’ (different meaning of word ‘cúl’ there which means ‘back’ and ‘goal’), but word for word translations are not usually advisable for idioms like ‘back of the net’. The ones I gave you with the word ‘bull’ (blow) in them seem to me to convey the idea better.

  • file

    so that only you (and the odd Gaeilgeoir stalker) would get that message in Irish. I do not really wish to embarrass you further on this thread unnecessarily. Feel free to translate my post, if you wish. This member of the public you have in mind, can he speak English as well as Irish? If so (and if not you are living in a different universe to the rest of us), I am not interested in spending any of my tax money on providing an Irish speaker who would be about as busy as the guy in the Carlsberg complaints department. Again, such money should, however, be spent on education and on activities that encourage people to speak Irish amongst themselves.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    As I said I’m not in favour of unnecessary bureaucracy but if you’re advocating support for Irish medium education and speaking Irish ‘among themselves’, it may have occurred to you that it will become inevitable that Irish will spill out of the enclosed community in which we Irish speakers will reside – the former site of the Maze perhaps – into the wider community. People may end up making complaints or enquiries of authorities as Gaeilge and be dealt with in that language – would you be satisfied in that circumstance? Or would we have to continually endure compulsory English and try to preserve wider society from the possible offence of hearing an occasional stray word of the Irish language in, ahem, Ireland…..

  • file

    What you mean the same as happens in the benighted, so-called Republic of Ireland? Speak Irish to those who want to speak it to you: do not speak Irish to those who cannot understand it. Basic rule of a language as a method of communication. If you lived in a French-speaking country, would you expect government departments there to answer you in Irish just because that happens to be your hobby? You live in an English-speaking country; the language of ‘the court’ here happens to be English now (it used to be French, even though the population at large did not speak it) so speak English when dealing with ‘the court’ i.e. government administration. Speaking English in circumstances where English is the norm does not detract from your ability to speak Irish. Insisting on speaking Irish to people who cannot understand does, however, do damage to the Irish language. Why should bi-lingual people (and there are no monoglot Irish speakers in Northern Ireland) insist on speaking to government officials in a language that cannot understand rather than speaking to them in the other language that both parties understand? Could it be that they are not contacting the government departments in order to conduct some business with them (i.e. for purpose of communication), but rather to make the dubious point that government officials in an English-speaking country cannot speak Irish (a non-communicative use of language, i.e. using language as a cause or a weapon).
    p.s. I have no idea where you get the idea that I was advocating a ‘enclosed community’ of Irish speakers.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Enough of this “faux” modesty, Nevin! One has only to raed your tenaciously argued repostes on Slugger to recognise someone whose struggles with English run alongisde that of Heracles and a small friendly kitten. And , like many of us you are sometimes using Irish grammer (“speaking Irish”) when you default to our local vernacular usage. take it up with Linda, who is very strong on this.

    I’m not at all sure you can change the recieved ideas about kilts just by an etymological exercise.The small Scots kilt or filibeg was a “cut down”of the “breacan”or “féileadh-mór” (“great kilt”) which was a single length of cloth some belted arounfd the waist to form a kilt and the greater part draped about the upper body.

    There is, of course, a skirted garment of oiled, quilted linen which the gallóglaigh used both on its own and under coats of mail. It was described to me once by a friend at the Army Museum as “the fiftheenth century equivelent for teh military of the Barbour Jacket” but it does not appear to be directly releated to the kilt itself, despite a similar pleated skirting. Frank Bigger’s “invention” of the Irish kilt drew on the Scots eighteenth century filibeg as a characteristic “Celtic” garment. But then, anecdotally, Frank believed it had originated in Ireland as had everything cultural, rather as the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” believed that everything significant whatsoever was originally invented by the Greeks.

    Very early items of plaid have been discovered at Hadrian’s wall, but its characteristic check pattern is a quite natural form created by the dynamics of the very technique of weaving, and early instances have been discovered even in China. Still this does not stop me from sporting my (Scots end) family tartan occasionally when its warm enough to expose my legs.

  • Nevin

    Seaan, I prefer to stick to a modest line but use my imagination – and engineering design analysis – to take me beyond perhaps superficial received wisdom.

    The etymology of plaid – pledd in Norwegian – seems to have been lost in the mist; it appears to have been borrowed into Irish as plaide.

    Is there a link between féileadh and veil? They both have covering in common.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Another thing you should consider is the Good Friday Agreement, endorsed by majority votes in referenda north and south, signed by or subsequently adapted by parties in Government.and outside. It committed the parties to facilitate and encourage the use of Irish in public and private life. Not just behind closed bedroom doors between consenting adults as you seem to prefer.

  • file

    What would happen to you if that actually came to pass? If people were employed who could speak Irish to you any time you happened to phone up an official organisation? You would have nothing to complain about and your life would be empty. Have you considered that it is the complaining you enjoy, not the speaking of Irish? As for the GFA, if two governments and most political parties can ignore it, why shouldn’t I?