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.
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.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty