One of the most depressing milestones in the pre Christmas crisis was Paul Given’s pointless and counterproductive cutting of the tiny Liofa bursary fund for funding poorer kids to attend Gaeltacht courses in the summer colleges in Donegal (predominantly attended by kids from NI).
Even for those of us determined to resist the casual vilification of unionist politics that’s so commonplace amongst the NI commentatiat that was a hard one to take.
The health of the language in NI has not been dependent on government support, in fact it has flourished in many places in spite of the general inertia, not least in SF run departments whose ministers have lacked dynamism on the most basic of issues, like busses for Meanscoil students.
Most of the progress has been down to the work of genuine social entrepreneurs, like those families who set up the first genuine city based Gaeltacht community on Shaw’s Road on the edge of Andersonstown in the west, and more recently the pioneering work of Linda Ervine in the east.
So, nearly ten years after the first British Ambassador to Ireland attended his first Gaeltacht course in Donegal it was good to hear what sounds like a change of heart from the DUP leader Arlene Foster:
We do want to respect and indeed better understand the language and culture which we are not a part of and to that end over the next short period of time I do intend to listen and to engage with those from the Gaelic/Irish background, those without party political baggage or indeed demands, people who genuinely love the Irish language and don’t want to use it as a political weapon.
For those of us whose roots remain close to the Gaeltacht life source of the language it is as much a tie to speakers of the language in the Scottish islands (which remarkably similar to Donegal Irish – and English) as to our own sense of belonging to Ulster and Ireland.
Maybe it’s a prelude to something deeper in the negotiation process, maybe not. Such broadening of human feeling, however, is crucial to the defusing of a nasty little culture bomb that’s still periodically capable of causing huge damage to our fledgling democracy.