From Good Friday to Lá Dearg – the journey towards rights for Irish speakers

Ciarán Mac Giolla Bhéin is an Irish Language Activist and is writing this in a personal capacity

On the 20th of May thousands will make their way to Belfast to support the increasing calls for legislative protection for the Irish language, in the form of an Irish language act. Those attending, like the Irish language community itself, come from different backgrounds and have different views on many important issues, but on the issue of the role of the state regarding the Irish language, there is broad agreement.

Having been among the groups and individuals from the Irish speaking community who met with Arlene Foster and the DUP some weeks ago, there was genuine hope that after years of campaigning and lobbying that we were on the verge of significant progress. That hope still exists and is strengthened by the fact that for the first time we have a majority of MLA’s who now support an Irish Language Act. There is disappointment and anger however at more recent attempts by the DUP to divide the community by dismissing those seeking legislation as ‘political activists’. Notwithstanding the obvious fact that anyone advocating for political or legislative change is by their very nature ‘political’, it once again demonstrates a very narrow and derogatory view on the genuine needs of the overwhelming majority in the Irish language community and the contrived discourse around the politicisation of the language.
Those who criticize the politicisation of the language display little or no historical understanding. The language has constituted a political issue for centuries as the chief cultural target in the conquest and colonisation of Ireland. Despite this, commendable and effective efforts were made to preserve our native language and culture, by people from all traditions and backgrounds. This undoubtedly saved the language from extinction which today is flourishing in many communities across the north. Any minority community engaged in a struggle for rights and recognition are quite consciously involved in ‘political activism’. This doesn’t diminish or undermine them or their campaign. As many language communities across Europe and throughout the world will testify, it is the denial and disavowal of rights which is controversial and ‘political’ and not the assertion of those rights. The right and opportunity to ‘learn and use’ your native language, according to internationally acclaimed language expert Fernand de Varennes, ‘flows from a fundamental right and cannot to be considered as a special concession or privileged treatment’.

So why do we need an Act? I could quote previous commitments, cite international examples, examine the history and importance of the language as a central part of our cultural heritage which has shaped our place names, surnames and even how we speak English. However, the most simple and compelling reason to implement an act is that an Irish Language community exists in the North. We are a community that speak Irish, that fully support the development of adequate resources for Irish, that learn about the world through Irish, and we are a community that has underwent monumental growth in the last few years (it is estimated that the 6,000 people who use the Irish medium education system in the North will double in the next 7 years).

At present, this community has no legal protection in the same way as Welsh speakers in Wales do, for example. Therefore, the state has the power to ignore the Irish Language Community or to oppress it, and no legal mechanism exists to address this. The case of former Department for Communities Minister Paul Givan axing the Líofa Gaeltacht Bursaries recently highlighted this, and was a further example of a continuous, long-term pattern of statutory hostility and marginalisation. Painful experience has shown us time and again that we can put no faith or trust in the good-will officials and many of our elected politicians to do the right thing for the language. We need a legislative framework that places clear, unambiguous responsibilities on all government departments and officials while removing any scope for petty political prejudices driving decision making. As the Justice Maguire recently noted in the Conradh na Gaeilge judicial Review victory at Belfast’s High Court, ‘political allegiance cannot be an excuse for breaking the law’.

A Language Act is only one ‘pillar’ in the overall design of language revitalisation. The Language Protocols launched in Donostia last year and endorsed by over 200 language NGO’s across Europe provide a glimpse of the ongoing struggles by minority language communities to survive in the face of what has been described by Philipson as ‘Linguistic Imperialism’ or ‘Linguicism’.

According to Michael Krauss’s (UN) estimates, 90% of the world’s languages will be extinct by the end of this century. When we have strong legislative measures in place to protect the environment and wildlife can we not do the same for the greatest treasure of human cultural heritage? The protocols have been designed and developed in consultation with minoritised language communities as they understand what being on the receiving end of language rights violations feels like while also having an acutely practical appreciation for the specific measures required in order to properly defend these same rights.

On the 20th of May those who have experienced marginalisation and discrimination for nothing more than wanting to live their lives through Irish will take to the streets demanding long overdue change. Among them will be parents and pensioners, children and young people, employed and unemployed, and people with a broad range of opinions and views on many different issues – but in the case of rights and protection for the Irish language, they are of one voice: it’s time for the state to act. If you think this is a cause worth fighting for and that all of our of citizens are entitled to respect, recognition and rights, then please join us this Saturday as we march from the Gaeltacht Quarter to Belfast’s city hall!

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  • NotNowJohnny

    I’m certainly not arguing any such thing. In fact I’m bemused at how you came to this conclusion. I’m equally bemused at why you would think you would have a right (if you work in a public body)to request that someone you are dealimg with speak to you in English. The legislation being called for (by some) would confer rights on the citizen, not on the state. You don’t surely think that you would have a right (if you work in a public body) to request that someone you are dealing with who is deaf speak to you in English (rather than use sign language)? You don’t surely think you would have a right (if you work as a police officer) to request that a Chinese tourist you have arrested and are questioning speak to you in English? So why should it be any different with legislation on Irish?

  • grumpy oul man

    So comparing education and health to a Pratt playing his music too loud, excellent!
    And of course it’s interesting that you seem unaware how good a investment education is for a society.
    Less education equals a greater possibility of involvement in crime a lower paying job so less tax more benefits etc.
    And would you seriously let a person suffer if they were not here legally.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    Whatever

  • grumpy oul man

    Congrats, you summed your whole argument up in one word,

  • John Collins

    Are you seriously suggesting that nobody from the CNR community commands an adequate salary to actually pay tax?

  • Katyusha

    Yes, Jeremy.
    If people live in such a remote area that it’s more economical to send a taxi or minibus to pick up their kids on the way to school instead of a school bus, such a decision would be sensible.

    have access to benefits & medical treatment even though they’re not citizens

    Yes, indeed they should. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a citizen or not when it comes to benefits, what matters is that you can pay into the system when you are able. If a foreign citizen is working in the UK and contributing to the healthcare and welfare systems, why shouldn’t they be able to use it if they fall ill or are made unemployed.
    Similarly, being a UK citizen doesn’t entitle you to either benefits or healthcare. If you live outside the country for six months, you can’t use the NHS for the next six months on your return. Nor can you fly back to Blighty for free healthcare.

    As for the “right” to a gender neutral bathroom, I must have missed the memo giving people the “right” to a gender specific one.

  • John Collins

    I studied Latin over fifty years ago and travelling abroad I suppose it was of some assistance. However over time one comes to realise that English is just another Romance Language that the Romans left behind, the same as French Spanish or Portugese. English has far more words, and roots of words, in common with those languages than they have with Irish or Welsh, which are not legacies of old Rome. I often wonder if the old English (Britannic) Celtic Language had survived would modern Brits not be proud to retain it as part of their culture. I firmly believe they would.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “NI isnt special or unique. “…only someone from our….” Tosh. Your conflating western societal ease with the welfare state and the eggs that it produces with a whole strata of society who see their legitimate aspirations being ignored by a gerrymandered undemocratic jumped up county council.”

    Nice one, you just accused me of conflating whilst seemingly doing the same thing yourself – what the dickens is the link between the welfare state and people snapping ‘rights! rights!’ whenever a microphone is pointed in their direction?

    For what it’s worth my view of NI’s particular expertise for playing the rights card comes from years of working and/or living in other countries, NI is a heavy hitter, make no mistake about it.

    “I would rather see hundreds of people drunk and laery shouting for imagined rights that actively deny rights enjoyed by other citizens of the United Kingdom.”

    What does this even mean? Imagined rights that actively deny rights?

    “I’d also rather people were not afraid to shout for rights that they feel are theirs and be unafraid of the consequences than the recent alternative of beating people off the streets for having the temerity to question authority.”

    A different topic entirely, in fact, it’s the polar opposite of what we have here; people are calling for their imagined rights even when it’s not fitting.

    Can you not see that this ‘wolf-crying’ is detrimental to people who are actually in dire need of protection?

    As for the guy in Glasgow; he has his rights to play techno at three in the morning at the expense of the sleep of the neighbours who have to work?My girlfriend at the time spent a large part of her day working with very sharp knives, the bare faced cheek of the wee d*ck to portray himself as a victim.

    Like I say, it’s now a lazy ‘go to’ chant that potentially impedes the well deserved progress of others

    (NOTE; before you deflect, I have clearly stated my support for an act and I don’t need to portray any one as a victim to argue its case.)

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    Yeah. Or you could just have a few vodkas and get pissed. Whatever.

  • John Collins

    This is why ever one interested in speaking Irish should wear a Fainne and unashamedly speak the language, where ever they get the chance. We have been too polite for too long about using the language when out and about.

  • Karl

    I made the point because the welfare state in the west has grown beyond the basic support of life and dignity to encompassing all sorts of payments for housing, utility bills, food, transport, training, and a million and one allowances with very little expected in return from the recipients. I believe it is this lack of two way contract that has led to the rise in people demanding fictitious rights because society itself has given them such a sense of entitlement.

    I think its ridiculous to have a debate about whether to grant an ILA in NI when UK citizens in Scotland and Wales already enjoy the protection of the indigenous languages.

    Given this, and the fact that language protection has been granted to other UK citizens, then I dont think people calling for an ILA can be described as calling for imagined right.

    “I’d also rather people were not afraid to shout for rights that they feel are theirs and be unafraid of the consequences than the recent alternative of beating people off the streets for having the temerity to question authority.”

    The key word in the above paragraph is ‘than’. The former is not ideal but it is preferable to the latter.

    I did point out your techno player would have had 5 minutes grace if I’d been in your position before the police set him straight.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    But if we’re talking about “rights” can I move with my kids to the middle of nowhere and then claim a “right” to have them taken to school at the public expense – surely there must be some responsibility, some little voice that says if I choose to move away from the bus, or whatever, then it’s on my head?

    WRT citizenship – if a child is born with problems then we deem it has a “right” to medical treatment even though it hasn’t paid in to the insurance scheme. Where did that “right” come from – it can’t be purely financial. It can only be based on some sense of being in a “club” and members of that “club” have certain “rights”; do we call that “club” citizenship?

    Do people who are not members of the “club”, or Welfare State, also have the “rights”? If they do then what’s the point of being a member and, perhaps more importantly, why should people pay the membership fee if the “rights”are available to all?

    I can see how people can pay to join, and let their membership lapse, but a “club” must differentiate between members and non-members or else there’s no point in having a “club”.

    I’ve read the UK & EU HR stuff and there’s not much we, I think, would object to but it does seem to have become a bit of a runaway horse over the last few years.

  • Katyusha

    But if we’re talking about “rights” can I move with my kids to the middle of nowhere and then claim a “right” to have them taken to school at the public expense – surely there must be some responsibility, some little voice that says if I choose to move away from the bus, or whatever, then it’s on my head?

    As someone who did grow up in the middle of nowhere, and faced a car journey of half a dozen miles followed by a bus ride of more than an hour every morning, I can answer that question. You get a bus pass. And yes, the education authority did send a taxi/minibus around certain catchment areas that always sent children to the school and link them up to the school bus route. The important thing is that the education authority is able to provide transport to a school in the local area, not necessarily one of your arbitrary choice many miles away. If you choose to travel the longer distance to send your kids to another school of your choice further away, then… its your choice. The EA did what was reasonable and practical, and the rest are your own hurdles to overcome.

    WRT citizenship – if a child is born with problems then we deem it has a “right” to medical treatment even though it hasn’t paid in to the insurance scheme. Where did that “right” come from – it can’t be purely financial.

    I honestly hope I don’t have to point out that parents bear financial responsibility for their children.
    Secondly, I said “that you can pay into the system when you are able”. I’d hope most people realise that children won’t be able to pay into the system until they reach working age, and that our welfare systems in Europe are not funded by some individual account that you draw from, but are socialised, so that everyone registered in the system contributes what they can and can use it when they need it. We aren’t the US or Australia here.

    It can only be based on some sense of being in a “club” and members of that “club” have certain “rights”; do we call that “club” citizenship?

    Do people who are not members of the “club”, or Welfare State, also have the “rights”?

    The “club” is based on residency, not citizenship. If you use the healthcare system of a country you are not resident in, then the healthcare fund of the country you are a resident of foots the bill – if they have a welfare system. Otherwise you need insurance. It doesn’t matter one jot what citizenship you have, your passport doesn’t get you access to the NHS.

    I’ve read the UK & EU HR stuff and there’s not much we, I think, would object to but it does seem to have become a bit of a runaway horse over the last few years.

    The biggest issue would appear to be the rigid manner in which the UK interprets European law, more than likely due to the immense pressure of litigation in its legal system. The continental nations interpret things in a more sensible and practical light.

  • Jeremy Cooke

    I was interested in people’s thoughts about “rights” and society but I didn’t warrant the insult, from you or GOM.

  • Katyusha

    My apologies. It’s been a long day.

  • Croiteir

    Leaving aside Gaelic, not Irish, Language, you are correct, but remember a right will supercede law, which is why it is used to back up a demand or want.

  • Croiteir

    Ard Na Maine in Cullybackey and Lamh Dearg Abu outside the Thatch in Broughshane

  • Croiteir

    And therein lies the justification of the need of a Gaelic Language Act

  • Granni Trixie

    But what you have left out of your analysis is the negative impact on attitudes because SF is using the language as a political tool.

  • Granni Trixie

    I’m with you but for your generalisation about ” most Ni people”.

  • Granni Trixie

    But to southerners/RTE that is understandable – we are literally ‘north’ in relation to them. Sf, SDLP and others tend to use ‘the North” strategically,that’s the difference.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque
  • john millar

    “Based on what? Both communities have plenty of people on benefits, who are not contributing to taxes from employment to help pay for government services. The fact that we as NI are a massive drain on the UK economy, is the only truth. What is poor, nasty and cheap is the language of YOU and YOUR community. We do not know what his employment is. For all we know he is a business person, employing many. In terms of YOUR… There is no big meet, where the tribes of ‘Ulster’ meet and contribute what their communities can afford to the running of the state. The last time I checked, my employer did not ask me if I wanted my tax to be put in a nationalist bucket or a unionist bucket. If you fail to see the nasty side and underlying dig, then more fool you.”

    1 “Your community” refers to N Ireland as a whole
    2 Individual components of NI may indeed take more from the state than they contribute

  • john millar

    “Are you seriously suggesting that nobody from the CNR community commands an adequate salary to actually pay tax?”

    See above I refer to ALL of NI as “your community”

  • Casper

    Only one party use it as a political tool Grannie?

  • Oggins

    You… Failed to answer that. Do you know what the blogger does or contributes to the economy? No you don’t. If your were referring to NI as a whole, you should of said WE. Not you or your community. It was a slip of the mask response which had tones of sectarianism.

  • john millar

    “By community, who do you mean.
    No say in something because​ we don’t pay our share.
    So none of us here pay our way does that mean we should have no say in anything.
    Since we aren’t entitled to a say, you must also think that NI voting in the Westminster election is a waste of time since we don’t pay our way.
    “What about those on low wages or benefits on Great Britain, they don’t pay there way, are they entitled to a say.
    I suspect the whole democracy thing is a bit of a mystery to you.”

    I mean NI

    “No say in something because​ we don’t pay our share.
    So none of us here pay our way does that mean we should have no say in anything.
    Since we aren’t entitled to a say, you must also think that NI voting in the Westminster election is a waste of time since we don’t pay our way.

    Some in NI may or may pay their way –on balance the society does not. I favour full devolution of taxes and NI stands (or falls) on its own resources.

    “What about those on low wages or benefits on Great Britain, they don’t pay there way, are they entitled to a say.
    I suspect the whole democracy thing is a bit of a mystery to you.”

    EVERYONE in the UK- GB included ” has their say” via the election system which claims to provide democratic mandates for parliament to rule Those on ” low wages or benefits on Great Britain,” can only look on in envy as NI continues to be pampered
    Democratic -fair even?

  • john millar

    “I say the parties at your house must be cracker. Bring your own nibbles, drinks, and seats. Ryanair would be proud of your model”

    Give me the sums extracted from the tax payer to fund the above- ahem non- essentials and( after I have mitigated the NHS crises) I suspect that I can afford the mother of all barbecue parties on a weekly basis

  • Casper

    Hi James, I have been a reader here for a long time but never felt the urge to post before today. I just wanted to say that was a good, possibly the best, post I have seen from you. Nice one.

  • Oggins

    Sure there won’t be much to talk about, as you clear have no time for the arts, sports, or culture. Or people can talk about the silly prices to go to the theatre, or the fact that little Mick/Billy can’t play football due to membership being £500 a head.

  • Casper

    If it is truely a ”dead language” as you claim then why do the BBC shows programmes exclusively in the Irish language every week?
    Your personal desire for it to be a dead language does not, and will never, make it so.

  • john millar

    “You… Failed to answer that. Do you know what the blogger does or contributes to the economy? No you don’t. If your were referring to NI as a whole, you should of said WE. Not you or your community. It was a slip of the mask response which had tones of sectarianism.”

    I would only say “we” if I regarded myself as a member of the community I don`t I consider NI as a spoiled brat that needs a severe boot up the arse in the form of the removal of the famous “subvention”

  • Casper

    I agree with you fully on this. My elderly mother has a friend who was born and rasied in or near Carnlough and she speaks UlsterScots with every word. It fascinates me utterly.
    I have lived my entire life here on the north coast and would probably be more exposed to UlsterScots than the majority of people in N.I.
    Now I have known this lady for over 40 years but still she can make an off-the-cuff comment that leaves me scratching my head in confusion! It always makes me smile a little when she explains what her words meant.

  • john millar

    “Sure there won’t be much to talk about, as you clear have no time for the arts, sports, or culture. Or people can talk about the silly prices to go to the theatre, or the fact that little Mick/Billy can’t play football due to membership being £500 a head.”

    Rugby Union is game enthusiastically supported and played by tens of thousands -until professionalism almost all self funded – the subscriptions were trivial –pitches and club houses were hard won by club effort borrowings and endless individual efforts.

    If Mick or Billy has to pay £500 I suggest their parents take a leaf out of other VOLUNTEER clubs

  • Oggins

    Yeah sure, that Definitely makes sense and is a logical answer to explain the sectarianism. 😶

    So your not a member of the community, but happy enough to shout what’s wrong from the sidelines? When your challenged, it’s nothing to with me gov.

    So tell me, how do I opt out the community?

  • john millar

    “So tell me, how do I opt out the community?”
    Don`t vote for the political numpties unless they agree to the removal of the subvention and force NI to stand on its own feet.

  • Oggins

    Yeah, cause that is really going to happen in a modern society. Just you stick to YOUR community of one and fight the power on your terms, with sectarianism on your keyboard

  • Casper

    To be totally fair, anyone who lives in a failed state such as this deserves to be able to call it anything they want. If people take offence at the use of the North then that offence is surely in the eye of the beholder?
    If offence was specifically intended the user could have used much harsher language, for example calling it the Sick-Six, the Occupied Six Counties, the Colony etc.
    I dislike those terms but I wouldn’t criticize others for using them as I just find most of the arguements around the subject simply to be pedantic.
    For the record I have no problem calling this place Northern Ireland but usually for comfort, especially when typing, I just use N.I. or the North.

  • john millar

    “Yeah, cause that is really going to happen in a modern society. Just you stick to YOUR community of one and fight the power on your terms, with sectarianism on your keyboard”

    My “rules” apply to ALL without exception
    In what way is that sectarian?

  • Oggins

    Sectarianism was in the original language of you and your. You can mask yourself as one man on the island, but it was clear to all what you meant

  • john millar

    “Sectarianism was in the original language of you and your. You can mask yourself as one man on the island, but it was clear to all what you meant”

    Unless you are claiming that one of the groupings within NI is a bigger burden on the subvention than any other grouping AND these groupings exist on a sectarian basis I fail to see how a proposal that applies to all is sectarian.
    (PS I am currently “outside” NI)

  • Oggins

    Ditto, sitting enjoying my lunch in Dublin.

    I explained how you used the the words YOU and YOUR. It is very evident the angle you where taking at the writer. You tried to dress it up as you don’t see yourself as a member of the community or society for a better terms, which is laughable.

    So now your changing your tact? Just take it as it as, your mask slipped.

  • john millar

    “I explained how you used the the words YOU and YOUR. It is very evident the angle you where taking at the writer. You tried to dress it up as you don’t see yourself as a member of the community or society for a better terms, which is laughable.

    So now your changing your tact? Just take it as it as, your mask slipped.”

    Apparently you are not in NI I assume then it- NI – is not “your” community either. My mistake I simply suggest how the ENTIRE community in NI should be treated

  • Granni Trixie

    Obviously you know something I don’t.

  • Granni Trixie

    “Othering” seems to be of interest to academics in recent years – they could do worse than study Slugger….a lot of othering going on?

  • Oggins

    Well yes it is my community. It is where I am from, it is where I live, (work in Dublin) live in NI. Even if I lived in Dublin, it would still be my community. So if I was born in Kerry, and lived in Dublin, with your logic, I couldn’t consider myself part of the Kerry community?

  • Oggins

    Sorry Granni, can you expand? Not sure on the point. Thanks

  • Oggins

    You say mistake, I say intent. I believe the comments have been removed….

  • John Collins

    Thanks for the thread Ben. I have seen this description of basically most of the European Language, including the Celtic ones,as Indo-European Languages etc and of course I defer to the better knowledge the experts have. However when in France or Spain I read and see a lot of words that can be easily translated into English. My first language is of course English but I speak Irish quite well and I honestly find very few Irish words in Irish that can be easily translated into English or vica versa. Just a personal observation.

  • grumpy oul man

    So that’s ok, when you’d said your community you mentioned yourself​ as well,
    Glad we cleared that up,

  • DanCan

    Im pretty sure I didn’t leave it out – I did mention that the Irish language is demonised by unionists. By that I did mean they heavily related the language to republicanism. I started learning Irish in the 70s which happened before Sinn Fein came along and it was hated then by unionists also.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    So, if you’re able to give meat to the bones of my initial point then how exactly am I wrong and why do you presume that I know nothing of history regarding this topic?

    Is it not possible to simultaneously appreciate the legitimate fight for rights and be opposed to the ‘path of least resistance’ mentality that it has become the mode in this day and age?

    Are you sure you just weren’t annoyed at what appeared to be a unionist having a crack at someone who just happens to be a nationalist?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    OK, fair enough, but there is a fair whack or norn-ironers who do.

  • james

    A jeni nga Prishtina, Hasan?