The journal.ie have done a useful bit of fact checking over contradictory claims that the St Andrew’s Agreement committed the DUP to “ an Irish Language Act.” Their verdict:
The DUP’s claim that they never agreed to establish an Irish Language Act as part of St Andrews Agreement is true, as the legislation refers to the British government’s commitment to an Irish Language Act, not the DUP’s.
Although they signed up to the St Andrews Agreement, this includes a commitment by the UK government, and not the DUP. After devolution, responsibility for a language policy was transferred to the Northern Ireland Executive, but this did not include a commitment to establish an Irish Language Act.
What was legislated for was a language strategy, which could include, but is not the same as, an Irish Language Act.
Apart from the St Andrews Agreement, there’s no evidence that they’ve ever agreed to establish an Irish Language Act.
Claim: “The DUP at no point has ever agreed to establish an Irish Language Act with the UK government, with the Irish government, with Sinn Féin or anybody else.”
Although this verdict will be disputed, I suspect it accords with most people’s private assessment of the political position. I seem to remember that St Andrews was followed up by demands for Westminster to legislate , which rather gave the game away. Just now and in the perhaps vain hope of avoiding zero sum comment , I’d like to stress that this does not mean I’m in favour of the DUP position which is philistine and as unhelpfully politicised as Sinn Fein’s.
I support dual language signage and the option of Irish in rites of passage documents. But as for Irish in courts or the public sphere generally, I have severe doubts . People have enough difficulty with the small print in English, never mind Irish.
The limitations of the Victorian idea of a using an indigenous language for nation-building have been shown in the Republic and more recently in Wales. Yet there is a great civilising idea in there somewhere which requires fresh and open debate leading to wider Irish cultural provision including the language. We should build on the rudiments of what we have already. I’m strongly in favour of learning, beginning with far more about Irish music, stories ancient and modern, the meaning of names for people and places and not least, the spelling ( though could that be simplified?). The Protestant tradition in the language movement began to atrophy as it became more politicised ( and dear old Douglas Hyde and Ernest Blythe whom I once interviewed at length elsewhere didn’t help). It’s not quite dead and shows new signs of life. But it’s an uphill struggle against politicisation.
Arguing for the existing statist model rigidly on the basis of European minority language rights will get us precisely nowhere except staying in deadlock.
An honest analysis of experience in the Republic and Wales would greatly assist objective debate.
Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London