Ulster Language Act?

There has been understandably much ado on here regarding the Irish Language act (or rather the absence of one) recently.

I personally have been struck by the number of unionists on here (and on other sites) that are actually in support of an act of some sort in theory.

Newton Emerson briefly highlighted the shortcomings and potential fall-out from Carál ní Chuilín’s proposal a while back during a criticism of Arlene Foster’s attitude to an act.


I’m in agreement with him as to the choice aspect of signs which would ultimately just be yet another territorial marker and there are enough of those in Northern Ireland already.

So, in the absence of a hard-set plan here are a few proposals that could assuage fears of societal demarcation and (hopefully) the oft touted rebuttal of ‘expense’.

1/ Name: Instead of an Irish Language Act I’d propose either an ‘Ulster Gaelic Act’ or perhaps more fittingly ‘The Languages of Ulster Act’.

2/ Signs and Translations: Let all public signs in the land be either bi-lingual or tri-lingual depending on the area. For example, most of the Sperrins region would not have much in the way of Scots (language, not people) influence whereas areas say east of the river Moyola would. There would be no shortage of academics and historians willing to lend a hand for such a project that could determine the boundaries.
This removes the territory-stamping that would inevitably arise from a choice based system plus it should be taken into consideration that a choice based system would be dynamic and subject to regular review depending on the growth or contraction of the Gaelic sphere, whereas with this proposal the lines are static and require no monitoring (and therefore less expenditure).

Rather than an overnight replacement signs could be replaced as and when required (no doubt ‘accidents’ will increase as a result but at least it wouldn’t be an expensive rush to replace every sign in the land).

Co. Antrim street and place signs could all be written in Antrim Gaelic (with English an Scots). This would be legible to Donegal Gaelic speakers (if indeed there’d be much difference in many instances anyway) and would tilt a nod in the direction of Scotland which has much shared history with the county, look at the names on the Antrim coast of both the people and places, it makes sense (or just look out the window if you live on the coast).

(There are instances of places retaining the older versions of their place names e.g. in Zagreb, Croatia the upper town’s street names are still in some cases written in old German and old Croatian).

Sensitivity should be applied to translations of place names e.g. Northern Ireland could be translated as Northern Ireland, not ‘the North of Ireland’. Londonderry could have the London prefix included in areas where this sign is in use (the county has its own platoons of spray-can wielding censors too).

(On a side note, some translations seem odd to me, my understanding is that ‘The Loup’ in South Derry took its name from the once large wolf population there that caused headaches for the local French speaking Huguenots hence ‘Loup’ (Lupus/Lupine) and not from ‘An Lub’, though I stand open to correction, so why isn’t it translated accordingly?)

3/ Public Documents: On a practical level I personally can’t see the need to have public notices such as TV licence correspondence, Bovine TB tests from DARD, planning permission notices or such like written in 2/3 languages. The point of the communication is to illicit information. This can be done in English.

However, titles, letter heads and footers; there’s no reason why they can’t be translated. It’ll look good and give a sense of cultural appreciation that the ILA is supposed to do but without waste or much extra cost.

4/ Media:
Why not team up with BBC Alba to form a new dual Gaelic channel or simply re-brand BBC Alba to BBC Alba Uladh?

It could use some fresh blood and ideas. Having a mix of Scottish and Ulster Gaelic programs will be a step back to bygone days in terms of a common cultural sphere of influence and again from a PR point of view will help take the sting out of it for some unionists e.g. like listening to Free Presbyterian Psalms from Lewis on a Sunday (Scottish heritage is key to unlocking that particular door in my experience).

Of course, this would need discussion with the Beeb, BBC Alba and GM but it’s hard to see how the expansion of an audience would be off-putting to them.

BBC Alba – Uladh; Maximum coverage, minimum expenditure.

A whole new potential audience too.

The above proposals may well stop short of what Scotland and Wales have but they are surely a decent starting point and concentrate on pragmatism and have the advantage of being less ‘alienating’ than previous suggestions.

The exposure of Gaelic leaps exponentially but is not subject to the standard rebuttals and scrutiny that we have seen and heard recently. The BBC Alba-Uladh makes use of an existing service, would be more cross community in nature and would require relatively little in the way of prohibitive financing.

Surely it’s better to have something tangible like TV and road signs over something academic and theoretical like court proceedings?

If the point of an act is to afford protection and promotion of the language then which route is better?
No doubt I’ve missed out on a great deal and perhaps have been too optimistic about costs but it’s a start.

Furthermore, for any unionists who would as a reflex automatically oppose any and all moves towards an act is that really the best way to avoid being landed with the worst possible variant of a potential language act?

Would unionist involvement in a proposed act not lead to something more palatable rather than a hostile stance that could potentially lead to an ultimately more objectionable one being implemented anyway?

So many things in Northern Ireland are framed unfairly, usually with the explicit aim of hurting a particular group for political gain but is it really too much to ask to consider a modicum of respect for the language of the land that we refer to almost every day when we talk of our towns, villages and homes?