What do we *need* to ensure the survival and future growth of Irish in Northern Ireland?

Anger generally offers sub-optimal agency. That’s one reason why I’m not a fan of the “dearg le fearg” (red with anger) campaign. I am, however, in favour of promoting the Irish language as a common cultural possession of the people in Northern Ireland.

In view of the former, I’m not inclined to compound the error by following Ben Lowry’s advice and turn my ire on fellow Irish speakers or anyone else for that matter.

The story of the revival of the language in Northern Ireland is a matter of pride, not least because it came about through an unremitting focus on what could be done (and doing it), rather than what should be done (and then not doing it).

In large part, particularly in the early days, no one asked for permission from the state or anyone else to get on with it. I see the same energy and spirit in Linda Evrine’s efforts in East Belfast. As Seosamh Misteil reputedly used to say, ‘just déan é”.

But bearing in this doing what can be done, rather than what should be done, Ben raises some questions arising from Caral ni Chuilin’s draft bill and whether it is a fit measure:

In March, the Department of Communities published figures for 2015/16 that found that 9% of the adult population in Northern Ireland can speak Irish, 5% can write it and only 1% can write or carry on a complicated conversation in the language.

In the recent Assembly and Westminster elections, more than 40% of those who voted cast their ballots for nationalist parties. Irish language provision is widespread in Catholic schools, a major part of NI’s education sector.

If this is such an indispensable part of nationalist culture that it must not only by law be protected in the Province, but must in fact be put on a par with English, then it is reasonable to ask why the language has failed to gain more traction within the nationalist population here.

The second of the 2015 provisions is “conferring the right to speak the Irish language in legal proceedings”.

Would that, for example, require there always be a judge who can speak the language? Northern Ireland has 32 judges of county court level or above. For the proper administration of justice, such a judge would have to be fluent in the language, which would put them in the 1% of most proficient speakers.

Even to have a single such fluent judge would require positive discrimination (it could not be assumed to happen on the basis of probability).

If there was always to be an Irish speaker judge at high court level or above (of which there are 14) an even higher degree of positive discrimination would be needed.

Think of Voltaire’s “[the] perfect is the enemy of [the] good enough” or put another way “increasing effort to reach that perfect state just ends up in diminishing returns”.

To my Irish speaking friends, I’d ask, what do we need to ensure the survival and future growth of the language in Northern Ireland? (After ten years of waiting for a perfect solution has barely moved the marker an orlach).

For those of you familiar with transactional analysis, it’s long past the time we needed an adult to adult conversation about it.

  • james
  • NotNowJohnny

    Yes, I’ve read it in full. I’ve also read the SSA Act which was passed at Westminster – I presume it is the SSA Act you are referring to in your last sentence rather than the SSA? If it is, you’ll be aware that the SSA Act makes no provision for an ILA and therefore I’m left wondering what it is that you think the DUP missed. Can you help me out here?

    Now I’ve got that out of the way, I have to say that I’m not sure what your point is here. You haven’t provided the reference I requested re Gordon Brown’s statement and I’m not sure what the reference to page 12 of the SSA is supposed to clear up. This discussion has only ever been about the fact that the DUP has stated clearly that it didn’t sign up to an ILA, not whether it actually did sign up or not. You seem to be engaging in the latter.

  • Georgie Best

    The suppression of the Irish language has been one of the most disgusting aspects of colonial rule in Ireland. All of this cannot be reversed, but official disregard of the Irish has to end.

  • Skibo

    If you read it in full, as I attached it to assist you, you would have been quite aware of what was on page 12. Obviously you have refrained to even open the attachment.
    I am referring to the fact that the SAA was passed in Westminster. Did the DUP members vote against it?
    So it isn’t out of the way, you just refused to read the information I attached.
    I would have thought if you had some information from a Gordon Brown statement, you would have attached it so it could be checked.
    Perhaps you could do it now!
    As for statements by politicians, I believe legislation would over-ride any statement that a politician would give.
    Tell me how high do you place British legislation or is it possible as a Unionist to pick and chose from it also?

  • Skibo

    James could you tell me where these points differ from the Welsh Language Act or the Irish Language Act in Ireland as the annex to the SAA refers to both?
    “The Government will introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language.”

  • NotNowJohnny

    Some points here amidst my conturing confusion as to what point you are trying to make.

    1. I don’t have any information on the Gordon Brown statement. That’s why I keep asking for the reference to him making any such statement.

    2. I dId read page 12 but saw nothing about the DUP signing up to it. Can you tell me (a) on what date the DUP signed up to para 12 and (b) what date the SSA was passed in Westminster.

    3. Which particular piece of legislation are you referring to in your penultimate paragraph?

  • Kevin Breslin

    1. There is no Executive.

    2. There is no Assembly to create an Act.

    3. There are no MPs from here of any note that could push the Government to act on this matter.

    4. There is no one in the British Government I would imagine who knows any Irish beyond Sinn Féin and the other stuff that hasn’t been translated into English, with the possible exception of Slainte!

    5. The Democratic Unionists don’t want to be seen to aid a Sinn Féin party who are doing nothing.

    Do I really need to give you another 5 to explain Sinn Féin’s empty glass on this matter.

    The DUP are only going to support the Irish Language Act on a quid pro quo basis.

  • james

    If we take Scotland as an example, the main difference is that a Scottish language act would be inclusive – whereas the ILA as proposed by SF is fundamentally exclusive, and has discrimination written into its core.

    An SLA and SF’s proposed ILA are simply not comparable because of the context. A more apt analogy would be if the SNP were to demand a Pictish Language Act.

  • Skibo

    Oh James you really are grasping at straws here. The Irish Language is not limited to Sinn Fein supporters. It is there for all. It is mainly because Unionism has politicised it that it is not seen as a Unionist thing.
    Irish is the native language of the island as a whole.
    Actually the SAA does not mention the Scottish language Act but does reference Ireland and Wales.

  • james

    Oh Skibo, you really are grasping at straws here…

    “The Irish Language is not limited to Sinn Fein supporters.”

    I didn’t say it was. My point is that the SF proposals for it are clearly ridiculous – and to express my surprise, therefore, that the decent and genuine supporters of an ILA haven’t sought to shake off the shinners who have leeched themselves onto the idea of an ILA in a cynical attempt to:

    i. Make it unworkable

    ii. Sink it


    iii. Use it’s not happening to wring a few more votes out of the beleagured Irish language community.

    Same old. Again and again and again…

  • Skibo

    I didn’t realise you spoke for all the “decent and genuine” supporters for the Irish Language Act.
    As usual anything that Sinn Fein ask for has to be rejected because it is Sinn Fein.
    There is nothing in the Sinn Fein proposals that is over and above that in the act in Ireland or Wales and those are the two references in the annex of the SAA so what is your problem.
    Or have I hit the nail on the head, if Sinn Fein want it, it has to be refused at all cost, even the re-establishment of the Assembly!

  • John Collins

    In fairness nobody is looking for the revival of old Irish either, but Chaucer’s English is basically English and Brittonic was actually a totally a totally different language so your comparison is invalid.

  • Barneyt

    I am not sure if I should see the transistor as the Irish language coming to fruition or complete demise in this analogy. I’ll go with the former, which leaves SF and co in the “dodgy belief” territory?

  • Kevin Breslin

    For a language to live all types of people have to subscribe to it. I do think the bad add something, but the good add more. Language is after all a medium of communication not the content of the conversation.

    We don’t have to subscribe to any “sola lingua bona est lingua mortua” analogy simply because people dislike talking to one another in any language medium.