Ulster Scots, Ulster Irish, Irish Scots, Ulster Gaelic, Gaeilge Uladh

As Summer rolls on and disputes rumble regarding the possibility (or not) of the enactment of an Irish Language Act – or a Languages Act – or a Culture(s) Act,  we seem to be stuck in a labyrinth of ever decreasing circles or some Byzantine entrapment from which there is no escape.

As Christy Moore once sang:  For all of our languages we can’t communicate.

As an Irish speaker I’m conflicted about Ulster Scots.  It’s clearly a dialect of English but it has been recognised as a language for the purposes of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.   Whereas there’s a very vibrant Irish language community and movement in Northern Ireland, Ulster Scots is spoken by people who don’t even realise they’re speaking it.   As far as I know, there is no demand similar to that in the Irish language speaking community for schools, newspapers, radio stations and the like in Ulster Scots.  The Ulster Scots Agency, which is the ‘leath bhadóir/fellow agency’ to Foras na Gaeilge in the cross border Languages Body, has a website whose home page is entirely in English (apart from the name of the agency, in tiny print, under the name of the agency in English).  It doesn’t as Foras na Gaeilge does, for instance, offer a mirror site in its own language.   This is to say that the language  – or dialect – known as Ulster Scots is not its main concern.

Fair enough.  In the past when Ulster Scots translations have been offered in various fora or media – for example on newspaper advertisements – they have at times invited adverse comment and ridicule from a sceptical public unused to anything in a language other than English.   I have laughed along with some of this.  Some of it is ridiculous and reflects badly on Ulster Scots – some of the laughter and ridicule reflects badly on myself as a language activists getting caught in the trap often set for monoglot English speakers.

I don’t like this business of claiming Irish is ‘our’ language and Ulster Scots is ‘their’ language.  Though I’m a Munster man in exile in Belfast, I see Ulster Scots as part of my heritage, an unexplored part of my backstory perhaps.   If I wanted to learn more about it, it might be a help if there were classes to go and learn it or about it.

Such classes don’t exist, however, or at least not on the same scale as the mass availability of Irish classes.   The availability of Irish classes in then north is only barely outstripped by the proliferation of fast food outlets.   While there are Irish classes in the south, they aren’t as readily accessible in local community centres and the like as they are in the north.

There might have been more availability of Ulster Scots classes in the north had the NI Executive not shot down the Ulster Scots and Irish language strategies which had been presented to them by then DCAL minister Carál Ní Chuilinn in 2015.   My understanding is the DUP scuppered the Ulster Scots strategy lest they might have to support an Irish language strategy.  I’m open to other interpretations being argued for.

Now we seem to be in a bind.  The DUP which have opposed an Irish Language Act all along have now come up with a proposal for a Culture Act which would, it seems, give some semblance of recognition to both Irish and Ulster Scots and also to Orange culture.  Sinn Féin and the SDLP and both Pobal and Conradh na Gaeilge want a stand alone Irish Language Act.  Given this was promised in 2006 by the British Government in a side deal which was part of the St Andrews’ Agreement negotiations, and don’t give me the guff that the DUP didn’t agree or know or weren’t party to it, their objections didn’t get in the way of them signing up power-sharing, they have solid ground on insisting that part of the deal be delivered upon.

There is a way around this, however, and there’s a precedent for it.  The afore mentioned European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages is a model which can be used.  Already Irish is recognised under Part 3 of this charter, which sets out fairly specific protections and provisions which should be made for Irish with respect to the courts, education, public sphere, the media and other sectors.  Ulster Scots is recognised under Part 2 of the charter, which allows more general protections and provisions.  This differentiated recognition allows for the fact that Irish and Ulster Scots, while both minority languages, are at different stages of development and therefore need different levels of protection and provision.

There’s a lot of suspicion on all sides of the language(s) debate.  I have seen articles for example in the Newsletter saying that any support to Ulster Scots is not worth yielding an inch to the Irish language.  And certainly not to yield an Irish Language Act.  I have heard Unionists decry the potential ‘cost’ of an Irish Language Act being the ruination of Northern Ireland and shortly afterwards say if there’s going to be an Irish Language Act there should be equal legislation for Ulster Scots.  My suspicion is that Ulster Scots is being used as a blocking tactic in a game of political football about the languages.  I have been involved in arguments with people/accounts on social media who have wrongly claimed that bilingual road signage (ie Irish and English) leads to an increase in the risk of road accidents when that is not what’s been proven (according to a study, there is a potential danger not from bilingual signage but from signs with more than two lines) The next minute the very same people have said that Ulster Scots should be included – so as to make a two line sign a three line sign and therefore unacceptable for safety purposes in the context of the above linked report

I contend we shouldn’t allow the Ulster Scots issue delay the implementation of legislation which would recognise and support Irish in NI.   A single piece of legislation could contain many different parts which would provide for Irish, Ulster Scots, Orange culture and whatever you’re having yourself, respectively and separately.  It would only make a ‘laughing stock’ of the legislation if we didn’t take the legislation seriously.   Parties and organisations who claim to want a United Ireland need to take this on board seriously as part of the ‘new approach’ needed to unlock ‘unionist opposition to a new Ireland’.

I don’t know what a new/united/agreed Ireland might look like.  I do know it won’t happen without compromises on all sides.

The other side of that argument, which I have written about here at length and frequently in the past, is that Unionists should be eager to guarantee equality for Irish in NI, similar to the provision which is made in Scotland and Wales respectively.  Unionists should not be careless in allowing their prejudices to put Irish speakers in NI on a lower footing than Gaidhlig speakers in Scotland or Welsh speakers in Wales.  They should be strong advocates of minority language equality in all parts of the UK, that is if they hold their Union dearer than their prejudices.   After all, trying to look on the situation as a unionist might, while some nationalists might look on an Irish Language Act as a stepping stone to reunification, unionists could view it is as a bulwark against nationalists becoming more trenchant and determined in our pursuit of a United Ireland?  If you add an ILA to the NHS, plus an eventual reversal on Brexit, it’s more challenging to make a convincing case for a United Ireland.   It’s not that I wouldn’t be making it – but it’s quite plain to see that the current situation is not making the case for the Union to be maintained.

There is also the issue that legislation providing for and protecting the Irish language in the north would give a boost to the Irish language at a time when it’s in a precarious state in other parts of Ireland.  Some people argue, in order to discount the possibility of language protection in the north, that language legislation in the south hasn’t helped.   My contention is that Irish language legislation overly focused on bureaucracy and duplication hasn’t worked in the south when what’s needed more is hands on protection and provision for a language on the same basis you would protect an endangered eco system.   They’ve used old figures to claim the Irish language is dying when there are plenty of signs to the contrary which show its growth in urban areas.  They say a minority of people in NI speak it and while that’s true, a minority do speak it in NI, it’s not as small a minority as they would like to portray and the size of a minority (as opposed to its existence) has never been a good reason to deny protection to that minority.

And, clearly, the Irish language does need protection in Northern Ireland.  It needs protection from ministers who would make arbitrary decisions to deny provision for Irish speakers based on their own prejudices or party interests.  I am thinking here as much of the Líofa decision by DUP Minister Paul Givan as I am of that by Sinn Féin’s Education Ministers who sought to deny bus transport to and from North Belfast and other locations to pupils of Coláiste Feirste.

Sometimes at the back of my mind, I think we could resolve the impasse with some simple rebranding.  What if we were to call it the Ulster Gaelic Act instead of the Irish Language Act or rebrand Ulster Scots as Irish Scots?  Would that melt away some of the blockages we’re currently enduring.    Would some who oppose the Irish Language Act content themselves that an Irish Language Act of any description cannot enforce anybody in the north to learn the language any more than it did in the south – and the hollowing out of Ireland’s hybrid Irish-British Mid Atlantic identity has not taken fire in the south and is unlikely to happen here in the north either.  Leastways not as long as we can spend days hotly debating the rights and wrongs about Dr Who’s gender change or concerning ourselves more than is healthily obsessive with the progress or decline of English/Scottish premiership soccer firms/clubs.

With all due respect to those on the front lines of this political (dis)engagement, it’s time to make progress on this issue.  Digging deeper trenches is getting us nowhere.


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  • runnymede

    As there are no monolingual Irish speakers in NI (except maybe a few infants), in what way does doing business in English disadvantage Irish speakers? It doesn’t.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    All Irish speakers in NI are bilingual if not multi-lingual. Welsh speakers in Wales are bilingual if not multilingual, Gaidhlig speakers in Scotland are bilingual if not multi-lingual. If it’s the preference of people to use an indigenous language – not English – to do their business with the state, why not allow them to do it in NI – as much as they’re allowed to in Wales or Scotland?

  • runnymede

    Because it’s an unnecessary burden when the number of speakers is so small.

    Why not allow it for Polish or Urdu as well? On a comprehension basis the case for that would be stronger, though the same problems would arise in terms of burden.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    There are more Irish speakers in NI than there are Gaidhlig speakers in Scotland and yet they can do it. There is a significant difference between speakers of indigenous languages and other languages. Different cases can be made for Polish and Urdu – but this isn’t really about comprehension and it’s dishonest to pretend that it is. This is about identity and culture and accommodating people in the way they express themselves.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Ah, the heady aroma of the cultural supremacist!

    That was an awflot of (English) words to say ‘ours is more worthwhile than yours’.

  • runnymede

    That seems like a false distinction to me. Poles and Urdu speakers also have identities and might like to be ‘accommodated’ in the way they express themselves.

    Elevating a tiny minority language above these other community languages on the basis it is ‘indigenous’ is for me an unpleasant concept, whiffing a bit of a racist ‘we were here first’ attitude.

    There would have been a case for the sort of thing you are talking about 150 years ago, but not now. The world has moved on.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    It’s not a problem, it seems, in other parts of the UK – so why should it be a problem here to give an indigenous language protection in legislation? It’s a bit ironic to be accused of cultural supremacism when I’m advocating for protection for a minority language which is indigenous to Ireland north and south. An indigenous language community is like an eco-system deserving of protection. It’s a distinction recognised in international law and in discourse on human rights. It doesn’t in anyway denigrate Polish, Urdu or any other language. It merely says they are different, which they are, and should be afforded rights accordingly. If you’re going to go down that route you may as well include English and stipulate in the legislation what rights English speakers have.

  • Zeno3

    “It’s not a problem, it seems, in other parts of the UK – so why should it be a problem here…?”

    Are you serious?

    What do you want to protect it from? Is it not thriving?

  • LiamÓhÉ

    A bit offensive to suggest “a whiff of racism” in the case of defending a culture in its milieu. If the shoe was on the other foot, in a parallel timeline, and English was on the way out then you can imagine how English speakers might feel. Once there were as many Gaelic speakers as English speakers, from Cork to the northern tip of Scotland. Some of us would like to stop the decline and bring it back. As they say in PC circles “Get over it”.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I quote from my own piece:
    And, clearly, the Irish language does need protection in Northern Ireland. It needs protection from ministers who would make arbitrary decisions to deny provision for Irish speakers based on their own prejudices or party interests. I am thinking here as much of the Líofa decision by DUP Minister Paul Givan as I am of that by Sinn Féin’s Education Ministers who sought to deny bus transport to and from North Belfast and other locations to pupils of Coláiste Feirste.

  • It is probably true to say that there is nobody in Northern Ireland who wishes to live their life in Ulster Scots, and if there was there wouldn’t be enough collaborators to allow them to do that. That does rather impinge upon a progressive rights based agenda for them, and for the prospective them.

    Regarding an Act, it still isn’t clear to me what an act would actually say. Which rights do Irish speakers need in Northern Ireland for their daily life that don’t currently exist? I’m sure that this has been laid out somewhere, but I don’t know where.

    For both, I am not clear as to why the local assembly need to legislate for either group and not the UK government. Such clarity may come from if my second point is addressed. 🙂

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    The British Govenrment made the pledge in respect of Irish but promptly divested themselves of it as soon as they could so that it became a matter for the Assembly where it got caught in the continuous struggle between the sects/parties.

  • Oggins

    Runny, why bring up the same point on other languages when it’s has been answered on this web site a 100 times. Asking the same question will always get the same response.

  • Oggins

    Take out of it what you want. You have an Irish language activist highlighting why we should have a ILA.

    Has he identified the difference between US and Irish, yes? Was anything in that factually wrong? No.

  • Steve

    I’m a passionate advocate and defender of minority languages and linguistic rights. And I absolute believe that Ulster Scots has social, linguistic, cultural and societal value that should be acknowledged, respected and protected. But it is also probably the most profound example of all that is wrong with Northern Ireland.

    Ulster Scots is a dialect, and not in any real sense a language. That doesn’t dismiss it or make it unimportant, but it is a fact that needs to be stated clearly.

    Because ‘themuns’ have a language to use, agitate around and differentiate themselves culturally and political through, however, chunks of unionism and loyalism thought that they should get in on the whole lingo act too. So a dialect that people use without even realising, or at the other extreme which no-one lives their life entirely through, has been elevated to the status of a language – as if it were French, or German. Or Irish (the oldest continuous written language in Western Europe btw).

    It’s the classic zero-sum mentality that afflicts everything in NI coming into play. You want something for the Irish language ? Well that must make my identity worse off – so I want something in return. How about status and funding for this dialect that I have no intention of speaking ?

    Until NI grows up and stops seeing something for one side as a hit or a loss for the other, we’ll continue to have farces like what’s happening with languages. Because it’s not actually about languages.

  • Zeno3

    So an ILA will protect in the sense that more money will be needed to fund it? Why don’t the Irish Government fund Irish in the North instead of the British Government?

  • Nordie Northsider

    I’m beginning to wonder if the Irish language hasn’t become one of those subjects, like abortion or Israel/Palestine, that it’s no longer possible to debate in a calm fashion. Conchubhar’s opinion piece was in no way hostile to Ulster Scots and yet there are accusations of cultural supremacism and even racism. It’s almost as if one’s words and arguments are irrelevant; it’s just gut feeling.

  • runnymede

    And once upon a time most of England was celtic-speaking too. So what?

  • runnymede

    From Wales we can see what the Irish language ‘lobby’ want, and it isn’t pretty. See my comment to Mick (which he agreed with) on the other thread.

    What is being aimed at here is to use the Irish language to raise up one part of the community at the expense of the other, ‘jobs for the boyos’ as it is termed in Wales.

    I’m very happy for Irish speakers to celebrate their language and I can see ways that the authorities might give it some modest cultural support. But at the end of the day this is the language of a tiny minority. However totemic it is for some Irish nationalists, that is the reality.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    A really interesting question to which there are a number of answers.
    A) the ILA is not merely about funding.
    B). The Irish Government does already fund some Irish Language activity/promotion in the north through the north south Foras na Gaeilge – but not nearly enough.
    C) last time I looked NI was part of UK and thus the responsibility lies with the UK Government.
    D) the U.K. Government made a specific pledge in the St Andrews Agreement to introduce an ILA. They made a more general pledge in the GFA to resolutely promote use of Irish in public life. The UK should stick by promises made in international agreements.
    E) All of the above.
    The correct answer is E. All of the above.

  • Aodh Morrison

    He also pointed out the vibrancy of Irish in “the North”, in comparison to Ulster Scots being in the linguistic doldrums.

    If one, as I do, supports legislation being enacted only on the basis of need, rather than a partisan, nebulous concept of “rights”, it would appear that it is Ulster Scots that needs the support.

    Personally I regard both Irish and Ulster Scots in much the same way as I think about street furniture. It’s just there, some folks will get agitated about the design, or the colour, or the direction it faces, or that there’s too much/not enough. I know that I’m not going to use it myself, but I know some do. I know I have to help pay for it through my rates/taxes, but I also pay for other things that I’ve equally no interest in.

    But at least save me from the argument that a public bench on Ramore Head has more value than another in Strabane town.

    Should you consider replying to this please do so in either Irish or Ulster Scots. Thanks.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Why is this such a case of ‘us’ and ‘them’ with you? How is ensuring Irish in NI has parity as a minority indigenous language with Welsh in Wales or Gaidhlig in Scotland ‘raising up one part of the community at the expense of the other’? Aren’t we all part of the UK? Isn’t the UK big enough to acknowledge that Irish is part of its linguistic heritage and if it’s living today, as it is, it should be protected like Buckingham Palace or any eco system? Who is ‘the other’ in your scenario? Maybe you’re right in that the Irish language community is rising up to demand equal treatment with other indigenous language communities in the U.K. The day of English language hegemony are over. The world has moved on. Embrace your – our heritage and stop living in the past according to outdated standards.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Tá an Ghaeilge beo agus bríomhar i dTuaisceart Éireann a Aoidh. Sin de bharr obair an phobail Ghaeilge thar aon ní eile thar na blianta. Ní chealaíonn sin dualgas Rialtas na Breataine i leith cuid d’oidhreacht a dtír agus, thairis sin, mar gheall ar na comhaontaithe atá sínithe ag an Bhreatain, cúram ar leith a thabhairt don Ghaeilge mar theanga dhúchasach.

  • That part I know, it is repeated so much that we can’t miss it. What isn’t mentioned very often is exactly what the pledge entailed, meaning that it wasn’t clear what exactly it wanted to implement. lately I’ve seen a few soundbites taken from an old rejected document for Carál Ní Chuilinn – where is the original document. Do you, as an activist, have your own document on what a bill should contain. Sorry if I sound lazy, but I find these things hard to discuss without some specifics.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    Back then there wasn’t a draft Irish Language Bill – there was just the promise of an Act. Which is to be the subject of negotiation. Proposals have been made by two Irish language organisations, Conradh na Gaeilge and Pobal, and the SDLP. SF has not published a draft bill but have given costings amounting to some £4m per year. Pobal’s bill is contained in a document which is the most ambitious of those produced: http://www.pobal.org/uploads/images/Acht%20na%20Gaeilge%202012.pdf
    Conradh na Gaeilge’s discussion document can be read here: https://cnag.ie/en/get-involved/current-campaigns/irish-language-act.html
    As far as I’m concerned, I would be satisfied with an Irish Language Act which in broad terms commits the Government to give legislative force to the promises made already by them in the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.

  • runnymede

    I like to hear things from the horse’s mouth.

  • runnymede

    To be clear, I am against much of what has been done in Wales, too. For precisely the reason I state – it has been (and is being) used to further the interests of one part of the community against those of the other.

    But the case for the language measures in Wales is much stronger as the language community is vastly bigger with areas where Welsh is a majority everyday language.

    Whatever cultural significance Irish has historically (and it has), its current practical value in NI is minimal.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    You are confused it seems. There is no one part of the community versus the other here. Nor is it the case in Wales, as far as I’m concerned. We are all part of the community – elevating Irish – and indigenous language – doesn’t elevate part of the community, it elevates the entire community. It’s not above any other ‘part of the community’. But it’s not below either. It is on a par with other indigenous minority languages in that it has legislative protection. The terms of this legislation have not been agreed yet but when it comes to negotiating this it should be in accordance with what is best for the particular circumstances of Irish in NI, not the transplantation of the terms of the Gaidhlig Act or the Welsh Language Act to be implemented in respect of Irish here.
    Now answer the question: what is the ‘other part’ to which you refer?

  • Mike the First

    “It’s clearly a dialect of English but it has been recognised as a language for the purposes of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages.”

    So, not “clearly” at all then.

    There’s plenty of debate about whether Scots (including Ulster Scots) is a separate language from English, and not only is Ulster Scots recognised as a language by the EU, Scots more generally has official recognition as a language including by the Scottish government as one of Scotland’s three indigenous languages*?

    So how can you dismiss all this in six words?

    Do you see Irish and Scottish Gaelic as “clearly” languages, or one as “clearly” the dialect of the other?

    *there’s another approach Northern Ireland could learn from.

  • Oggins

    I really don’t know where to start. Not sure on the overall gist of your response.

    Your first post would be clear man play. The poster used his facts based approach to justify what he believes in. Your retort was one culture being dominate over the other. It’s not culture he was referring to a language and dialect.

    The fact you regard US and Irish as something you have no interest in, your quick on the blog to publish. Funny that.

    Ultimately your only response this credits a debate is the flagging US and the vibrant Irish. Yeah Irish is growing, some say it’s not. Either way legislation will protect it and hopefully make it grow accordingly, within a respectable framework.

    I think the gist of the argument was that Irish and US are different. Irish is a Language and US is a dialect. The proposed cultural act ironically makes Irish a political weapon by those claiming it shouldn’t been.

    The blogger is not arguing against a US Act or framework, what he is saying it shouldn’t be bolted into a unrespectful Cultural Act.

    In terms of responding in Irish or US, I wouldn’t dare. My written Irish is poor, but you will be glad to know, recently I have started going to Irish lessons, and the cobwebs I had since school are falling off. I enjoying it greatly and meeting new people from ALL backgrounds and nationalities. When I feel comfortable to post in Gaelic, I will, on a Gaelic post or a gaelic web site and not when instructed by yourself thank you

  • Oggins

    I think this horse has published several times on this website…

    In fact, there has been plenty of horses, so much so, I feel it’s the stables at Fairyhouse. ?

  • runnymede

    ‘As far as you are concerned’ well, perhaps.

    But not everyone agrees with you, including a lot of English speakers in Wales (Welsh as well as English).

    I am not confused at all – language policy can be used to create divisions, to create jobs for the boys. That has certainly happened in Wales and is I think the intention of many Irish language activists also.

    The ‘other part’ is the vast majority of NI residents who do not speak Irish and have no interest in it. And who do not want it to be used in the ways I have outlined above, with state sanction.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    In however number of public consultations there have been the vast majority of respondents in NI have been favourably disposed to the Irish language act. So I think your ‘other’ might be the minority though, I stress again, recognising and protecting the Irish language in NI is for the betterment of all society in NI, not just the Irish language community.
    You speak about Irish speakers here in NI as if they were aliens, as if we didn’t pay taxes etc, as if we were not entitled to jobs which because of a special skill they have (and which is easily learned) others may be barred from. Well high court judges are expected to be expert in the law so jobs requiring Irish language skills will require applicants to be expert in that. That’s not ‘jobs for the boyos (or the girlos)”. That’s merely seeing to it that jobs are filled with those people who have the appropriate skills. There’s unlikely to be a huge number of these people – as I said whatever requirements will be subject to negotiation. And it’s fair to say that Irish language skills will not be the only requirement for these jobs – these people will be expected to carry out the other functions of the jobs too. So it will be an additional requirement for some roles – not all.

  • El Daddy

    Could you develop on how you don’t like the term indigenous? How is there anything wrong or racist with simply saying “we were here first” if it is true? It’s not the same as saying “you’re not welcome here.”

    The Vikings and Normans weren’t “here first” either.. I can’t say I see much racism towards their descedants.

  • runnymede

    Not at all. They are no more alien than other language communities. But the language they seek to champion is that of a small minority, and they all speak another one which everyone else uses.

    I like your argument about high court judges needing to be proficient in this wee language and yet that in no way being a jobs for the boyos situation though. Very convincing…

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    My argument regarding high court judges is that they have to be proficient in the law before being appointed to the bench. I drew a comparison with those with Irish language skills who might be appointed to posts requiring, inter alia, Irish language skills. It’s a specialism. It’s not what you portray it as ‘jobs for the boys’. There are many specialisms in the world of work for which only a small number of people are qualified – that’s not jobs for the boys and it’s dishonest to present it as that.
    The terms of the ILA are yet to be agreed so it’s impossible to say where the emphasis will be. I imagine (and hope) it will be a lot less on bureaucracy than you think and more directly aimed at making provision for a limited number of Irish language services and direct protection from discrimination. The principle of an Irish Language Act has already been conceded by the British Government. Get over it.

  • LiamÓhÉ

    Ulster-Scots is usually considered a dialect of Scots or English at a push, which branched out from Early and Middle English in the Scottish Lowlands where it won over from many Gaelic speakers, then came with the Planters to Ulster along with Scottish Gaelic. Irish and Scottish dialects of Gaelic both come from a common source, and Ireland now has three dialects of Irish with the Ulster one largely connected with the Scottish one, albeit with greater changes in Scotland. The Inglis-speakers of Scotland and England called it Erse or Irish in all its forms.

  • runnymede

    It’s maybe a language, but not a language as ‘good’ or ‘valid’ as Irish, seemed to be the point of the article…

  • runnymede

    The problem with ‘indigenous’ as a term is precisely that it implies a sense of original ownership of a piece of land, and cultural superiority as well.

    As for it being ‘true’ – well that depends on your time frame. Was Irish the first language spoken in Ireland – no.

    Is English not ‘indigenous’ to Ireland despite an 800-year history there – apparently it isn’t. But another language with a similar history in another place might be considered so.

    English isn’t ‘indigenous’ to England either – it wasn’t here 2000 years ago.

    Scots Gaelic (probably) isn’t indigenous to Scotland, having spread from Ireland.

    Most of Hungary was once slavic-speaking

    Much of western Asia minor was once Greek speaking, before the Turks came (and to some extent after,,,)

    etc. etc.

    It’s a loaded term often used in a loaded way. Its use in NI is particularly inappropriate as it directly connects with the racist Republican agenda about it being a ‘settler state’.

  • runnymede

    There are no jobs that ‘require’ Irish language skills though. You propose to invent some by bureaucratic fiat.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    If it’s in response to public demand and political negotiations, it’s the will of the people, not a bureaucratic fiat.
    Speaking of motoring, it could be argued that the requirement to have a licence to drive could very well be described as a bureaucratic fiat especially if one is a perfectly good driver. The Queen is apparently a good driver. She doesn’t require a licence to drive. She can still drive though. We require people to have drivers licences to allow them to drive on public roads because it’s for public safety and the common good. It’s also in the public interest to protect minority languages and the community that speak minority languages, Irish/Gaeilge/Gaelic in this case. Governments agree, parties are reaching agreement, only a small minority even smaller than the Irish speaking community raise petty and increasingly confused objections. An ILA will happen. Get over it. Move on!

  • Aodh Morrison

    You could have stopped at the end of your first sentence as you didn’t address anything I posted.

    Man playing it is not. I addressed the (failing) strategic approach of trying to support something by dissing something else. Please don’t try to claim it was not an attack on the status of Ulster Scots, snarky dismissive phrases such as “and whatever your’re having yourself” when referring to what Ulster Scots ‘activists’ might seek clearly illustrates the approach.

    I didn’t ‘instruct’ you to do anything. I invited you that should you consider a reply Irish or Ulster Scots would be, given your argument, a good option (as the thread author has). After all I did say ‘please’.

    As for your setting of parameters for posts; I’ll choose to comment on whatever I wish,in whatever timeframe that’s suits me and on any subject no matter how high or low a position it may occupy on my personal spectrum of things that interest me.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Perhaps a celebration of that vibrancy, the glass half-full approach, might be an idea?

    The “agreement” on the language was a negotiating sleight of hand. It was not the first, or the last.

    A language act was seemingly agreed in a side deal by the UK Government with Sinn Féin. The power to enact it was then devolved to the Assembly, and there it stalled.

    ‘Agreed subject to contract’ as the estate agents’ boards proclaim if you like. The unionists didn’t see a contract, and most certainly didn’t sign one.

    You’ve got to ask how important in reality was an act for SF? Knowing the historical unionist position on a matter that the unionist parties regarded as a significant leitmotif of a particular ‘Irish identity’, as the Shinners surely must, why did they not nail it down? And why did SF then allow the issue to lie fallow for the years that followed?

  • El Daddy

    I would say that “original” ownership is implied in the term, but any meaning of cultural superiority does the word a disservice and is more to do with the intentions of the speaker than of the word itself. Indigenous means native, not original.

    I would argue that English *is* indigenous to England – it is there that it was developed. The Anglo-Saxons spoke Anglo-Saxon, but English developed and derived from this solely in England for hundreds of years. Similarly, the Scots language also descended from Anglo-Saxon, but did so in Scotland, so is indigenous to Scotland. Ulster Scots, be it a language or a dialect, is clearly indigenous to Ulster.

    Scots-Gaelic is also indigenous to Scotland.. whatever variant of Old Irish the Gaels spoke when they arrived wasn’t, but Scots Gaelic has since become it’s own thing. Pictish is extinct, as is the language of the very original settlers that it replaced, but they are also indigenous to Scotland.

    The whole racist Republican thing that you are referring to is a shame, in how they throw around sectarian and discriminating language like that, but to deny there is not even an element of truth to it would be putting your head in the sand. Ulster-Scots are “invaders” in the same way that Norse-Gaels, Hiberno-Normans and Anglo-Irish are descendants of “invaders” in the rest of the island, who get along just fine – the only problem the Republicans have with the Ulster-Scots is the lack of integration compared to other migrants to the island.

  • Oggins

    I really do think your cultural supremacist mark added no value and was a play on the man. My logic for this was that you didn’t debate the posting and just engaged in whataboutery.

    I don’t think he has dissed it as you say, I think he has called out its issues. Do you see him say there is no need for it to be protected? No.. he has highlighted it’s current challenges. The difference between the poster and the current haters and blockers of the Irish Language Act is that is that he is offering solutions and idea. He has given clear facts, whilst you are purposely putting your own want in between the lines. You have yet to argue any relevance, or fact. Your standing back and implying….

    So again, can you actually provide any facts on any of your remarks? Can you call out something that you disagree with and argue why? Can you actually discuss what he has called out or what I have instead of whataboutery on your part?

  • james

    It certainly does seem an odd situation where we have a very small number of people who are genuinely proficient Irish speakers (and whose sincerity I’m not questioning) insisting that large amounts of money should be spent to encourage, and regulations be put in place to force, the overwhelming majority of people (who are not Irish speakers, and by and large not overly interested in learning) to speak it.

  • Oggins

    Well firstly they signed up to SA. Secondly the mistake was the the UK government would implement. If Unionism hasn’t the maturity to implement the agreement, what’s the point.

    I don’t think the poster is looking to get back into the failings of the government, SF or DUP or the ILA. This has been discussed numerous times on this website during the past. He is trying to say we need to start some movement on it and his reason for it

  • Oggins

    Force? How are they going to force people? What mechanism or public body is going to do so?

    Far from Odd, the Welsh, and Scottish have their own language arts. In a country made up of four nations. What is odd about it?


  • Concubhar O Liathain

    The campaign for an ILA never went away. If your best argument for not delivering an ILA is that it was a sleight of hand, a con job, a technical knock out, it’s really not worth any more of my time to discuss it with you. I’m not a SF poster. If you want their view, ask them.

  • Oggins

    Racism? The last I checked, the majority of people where of the same race in NI, but had different political and national opinions.

    indigenous: originating or occurring naturally in a particular place; native. Nothing in this indicates superiority

    So, Irish is indigenous, yes. Ulster Scot’s, yes, GAA, Orangism, yes. English indigenous to Ireland, yes!! Can. You see how you have contradicted yourself?
    ‘Is English not ‘indigenous’ to Ireland despite an 800-year history there – apparently it isn’t. But another language with a similar history in another place might be considered so.

    English isn’t ‘indigenous’ to England either – it wasn’t here 2000 years ago’

    I don’t think it’s a loaded term, I think some people use it for cheap shots, yes,but I do believe you are too sensitive to recognise that indigenous is the correct term, as it will imply its validity.

  • John Collins

    So what. They lost their Celtic Language without trace and we did not. I can assure if it had survived, the English with their great love of their traditions would do their utmost to preserve it. Anyway the British have long supported Welsh and Scots Gallic, which they actually regard as part of the British family of languages.

  • John Collins

    Ah will you get over the idea that all those who speak, or love, the Irish Language are out and out Republicans, with a capitalised or lower case r.
    I attend an Irish speaking circle once a week. We are mainly people of late middle, with a sprinkling of young students. Sometimes when the topic of debate is getting tedious I will throw a remark in or two praising Sinn Fein for sheer devilment. You really have no idea how animated some of my companions become as they, with rising indignation, shower condemnation on Gerry et al. The idea that lovers of Irish, who incidentally are people who for the most part enjoy using English as well, are all supportive of the IRA is grossly misleading

  • Hugh Davison

    Unfortunately there are many on here who would have failed the Comprehension part of their ‘O’-level English, or perhaps just couldn’t be a**ed reading the piece they’re arguing against.

  • Hugh Davison

    Yes, Runny. It’s all a Shinner plot to rub loyalist noses in their cultural inferiority.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I have sympathy with your plight, I really do.

    The main problem as I see it is that you and other campaigners are campaigning along ‘ordinary’ lines that would work in ‘ordinary’ places with ordinary folks and ordinary politicians.

    Alas, Norn Iron is not ordinary and as such a complete rethink is in order.

    I suggest a roll call of the facts.

    Fact 1; Ulster Scots has been politicised and unfortunately jarred into the position of a bargaining-chip-cum-wing-clipper.

    Fact 2; unionist politicians see an ILA as either a SF ‘thing’ or something to beat SF with.

    Fact 3; SF really don’t do much to dispel the image depicted in fact 2.

    Now, when confronted with these facts the usual arguments are wheeled out;

    “I don’t hate English because Cromwell spoke it!”
    Great, but fact 2 and 3 are still there.

    “Unionists hate everything Irish anyway”. Perhaps (not really) but still, fact 2 and 3 remain.

    “A language can’t be politicised!”. Untrue (it can, toats). Fact 2 and 3 are still up there. They haven’t moved.

    “Yeah that’s right, blame SF for everything!!!”. Still seeing fact 2 and 3 standing there. just riiiiiight over there….

    “….but…unionists…you know, unionists…because unionists….”. Great.
    Fact 2 and 3 still remain.
    They haven’t gone away you know.

    So, given the extraordinary (and ludicrous) nature of NI politics I would look at how to dismantle fact 2 and 3.

    Once that is done then you have a level playing field.

    Furthermore, you have some heavy lifters on that playing field on your team, such as Linda Ervine and her teams and Dr Ian Malcolm.

    It comes down to ‘principle’ vs pragmatism. Will you sacrifice your goal for a madey up principle e.g. “but why should we have to….?” or do what needs to be done.

    That’s your starting point.
    Take it from there.
    God’s speed.

  • NotNowJohnny

    James, your rather obvious error here has been pointed out to you numerous times before. Why do you insist on repeating it?

  • NotNowJohnny

    It may not be clear to you what an act would actually say but what must be clear to you is that an act can pretty much say whatever the assembly wishes it to say and there have been plenty of proposals around what it might say and arguments around what it should or shouldn’t say.

    I think a require the fir certain public authorities to promote and encourage the use of the Irish language is something that no one has yet made a reasonable argument against the inclusion of such a provision so there’s something that an act could say for a start.

  • NotNowJohnny

    My own view is that an ILA is not something which the SF party itself sees as particularly important from its own point of view. It has other issue which the party sees as much more important hence the lack of progress on an ILA previously. In my view the party in the north is first and foremost republican, then socialist with irishness coming a poor third. However there is an extremely significant SF voter base to whom the Irish language is considered very important and the lack of progress on the language became a stick to beat Sinn Fein with last year with in relation to its failure to deliver much after nearly 20 years of the GFA. That’s why the issue has become so important now. It is a measure of the party’s ability to deliver and explains why SF cannot now return to an executive without an ILA. An ILA in itself is not such a big issue for SF despite unionists trying to portray it as a political weapon of SF as a way of justifying their opposition to it.

  • NotNowJohnny

    Who decides whether something is necessary or unnecessary. Me? You? If I deem something necessary and you deem it unnecessary, what then? I put it to you that the decline in the use of the Irish language since the formation of the state makes it necessary for the state now to take action to prevent any further decline and to attempt to reverse the decline on the basis that the Irish language is an important part of the culture and heritage of the Irish people in Northern Ireland. Of course it may not be important to you but that does not mean that action by the state is unnecessary.

  • I do worry that the act would be a bit RHI. The pdf linked is in my to read list now

  • NotNowJohnny

    The act would be a piece of primary legislation, drafted by the office of legislative counsel in response to policy instructions agreed by the executive and subject to the assembly’s legislative process including scrutiny by the relevant assembly committee and public consultation. The RHI was something entirely different. It was a essentially a grant scheme where a deliberate decision was taken to remove the cap which the designers of the scheme incorporated. I’m therefore struggling to understand the basis for your worry that an ILA could be a bit RHI. Can you help me out here?

    Also, are there any other legislation or proposals for legislation, past, current or future, which you worry would be a bit RHI? If so, I’d be interested to hear of these. Or if not, is there any particular reason why an ILA alone causes you this worry?

  • Aodh Morrison


    It’s not my “best argument”. It’s the political reality.

    An Act is a political endeavour. Seeking such a thing is both a political process, and a process that requires politicians to successfully progress it. That is politicians from across the spectrum.

    Those facts may not be “worth your time” but until they are your project is going no where.

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    I see no evidence of “dissing” “Ulster Scots”.

  • runnymede

    Because that is of course the ultimate goal. In Wales this has already happened, with English-speaking pupils forced to learn Welsh, even in parts of the country where Welsh is barely spoken.

  • runnymede

    Why does language decline need to be arrested or reversed? If people don’t want to use a language, why should they be forced to?

  • runnymede

    what a confused post.

  • runnymede

    I never suggested that. I’m sure lots of Irish speakers dislike Sinn Fein.

    My issue is with the politicisation of Irish by Sinn Fein and others in pursuit of a very nasty kulturkampf.

  • NotNowJohnny

    In the detailed proposals put forward so far, none has included anything that would indicate to anyone that there is any intention of forcing anyone to use the Irish language. Even if there was (and there isn’t) then there is not a cat’s chance in hell that this provision would get passed by the assembly as the unionists and other parties (quite rightly) would veto it. Which raises the question as to how you came to the conclusion that the legislation would force people to use it? Did you simply make that up? Did you realise that the proposals put forward so far are difficult to argue against so you thought you’d make up a fictitious proposal that you could justify arguing against? Help me out here?

  • runnymede

    So at what point does a language become ‘indigenous’? How long must it be spoken somewhere? Does it have to change in situ – and by how much?

    Is English indigenous in Canada? Or Jamaica? If not, why not?

    Is Spanish indigenous to Mexico? It’s been spoken there a long time now and has some of its own characteristics.

    It’s all very subjective – as indeed is the distinction between ‘language’ and ‘dialect’, with the latter often used as a belittling term.

    I wonder how you would have classified Norman French spoken in England in say 1300 (dying as it was). A language spoken by a small minority, originally imported but it had been around a while and had developed some particular features.

    Would it have counted as ‘indigenous’? Should there have been a Norman French Act to preserve it from decline….?

  • runnymede

    That’s one of the silliest pieces of whatabouttery I’ve ever read – and this site is generally good value for that.

  • runnymede

    I’ve already made my issues clear, based on the situation in Wales and indeed south of the border as well. That is where language politics of this kind leads.

  • NotNowJohnny

    What leads you to believe that a DUP joint led Executive would agree to the compulsory teaching of Irish in all schools in Northern Ireland? If you don’t think they would agree to it, how do you think it is going to be implemented without the agreement of the DUP? Walk me through the process you have in mind step by step. I’m trying to understand how this will happen in the face of unionist opposition.

  • El Daddy

    The answer to all of those in your first three points is yes, if you’re talking about Canadian English or Mexican Spanish etc, and I agree that it is subjective as to what comes down to whether or not you see it as a language or dialect – I’m not saying which is which, someone else can better explain that than I. If what you’re going for is asking if I think Ulster Scots should have protection or recognition in Northern Ireland, whatever people want to define it as, then all I can say to that is yes, I do.

    The particular type of Norman French spoken in England after Hastings isn’t really of any relevance.. I don’t think people were too interested in preserving anything back then, just wiping it out. But if anything the Anglo-Norman language didn’t die out, as it massively influenced the Old English of the time and gave it the many Latin-originating words that Modern English has today, which is unique enough for a Germanic language.

  • Croiteir

    Do you think the objections 2&3 would be mitigated if the dialect protected would be the East Ulster dialect, even if it would be reconstructed, as it would be close to the Islay dialect, call it Gaelc, instead of Gaelic.


  • Neil

    It’s not a language, so it’s goodness and validity cannot be compared to Irish. I grew up speaking it.

  • james

    It depends how much teeth an ILA is intended to have, no?

    If you want to guarantee service provision in Irish, some unwilling souls in public sector jobs will be forced to learn it.

    If you want to put it on the school curriculum as a mandatory, many unwilling souls will be forced to learn it.

    If you want to impose a quota of 10% of the civil service being Irish speakers then, logically, everyone who applies to join the civil service would be forced yo learn it to boost their application. And presumably some poor souls who currently work in the CS would also be obliged.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    As you probably know I’d be a big fan of this idea, and as such I’d say yes with a great deal of bias.
    Too much bias in fact for my opinion to be valid.

    I think it’s a great idea.

  • NotNowJohnny

    No you didn’t. In fact I asked you to set out how it could possibly come to be given unionist opposition abd veto. And you couldn’t. The only reasonable conclusion one can therefore come to, is that you made it up.

  • NotNowJohnny

    James, I hope I’m not playing the man here but your capacity to understand this issue seems limited. These issues have been spelled out to you in great detail before yet you appear to have failed to improve your understanding one iota. I’m not sure what else I can say.

  • james

    These are all elements of SF’s proposals for an ILA.

    Are you saying that the Shinner’s proposals are a nonsense?

  • Oggins

    Hahaha far from it. I think it clearly identified the lack of substance and facts in your post. When you don’t know the definition of racism or the meaning of indigenous, don’t post about it.

  • Oggins

    But are we not by the stage of depoliticising it? We have gone by x a long time ago and ain’t going back. Is politicising by default not what our politicians do? It’s seen as chip, chip, chip for a UI/Union.

    It’s great to see people of Linda and Ian standing up for the language, but at the same time the Irish language activists can say, here SF we know you are politically elected, but we don’t want you involved because anything you support is like garlic to a vampire for unionists politicans. The whole thing has grown legs with now a fecking culture act. I see that as point scoring and completely political.

    I get the principle point, but is that (my opinion) not what he is also alluding?

  • Anything “Large and Complex” implemented at the behest of the Northern Ireland Assembly fills me with terror due to their collective incompetence.

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    I was aiming to top your explanations of ‘indigenous’ but I fell far short.

  • Deplorable Ulsterman

    “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy”.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    I thought that was the consensus?

  • Concubhar O Liathain

    That’s one of the reasons I suggested a ‘rebranding’ …

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Why not have a bare-bones act to begin with?

    If it is flourishing as we are led to believe then it doesn’t need ‘protection’.

    We don’t need translators in courts.

    We don’t need planning permission applications in Irish.

    But, we could use bi & tri-lingual signage e.g. Tri lingual in areas with historical Ulster Scots influence and bi lingual in areas with none.

    I think we’d be a culturally rich if everyone had a smattering of Gaelic and Scots poetry.

    The world must think we’re mental for trying to choose one over the other rather than both.

    Take it from there and see how we feel in 10 years.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Aha. Very good.

  • puffen

    If only I could have my children adopt some of these Dead languages, or Dialects, they might escape Hamburger Flipping, working in Brussels, shipping boxes of Bumph, I myself am multilingual, I speak Scots Irish, whenever i am drunk.

  • puffen

    perhaps because they where also celts , who realised assimilation ment annihilation

  • El Daddy

    The Ulster Scots? They weren’t Celts – as I said, Scots is a Germanic Language, not a Celtic one, that was developed by the Anglo-Saxons in what is now the border region of the lowlands of Scotland, and was not part of Scotland until later. The Scots from the Highlands and west spoke Celtic languages, and have a different background.

  • james

    If it is the consensus then it’s up to those people who are lobbying for an ILA to come out and say so. Disowning Sinn Fein’s sly-yet-stupid attempts to hijack a proposed ILA for their own ends of institutionalizing sectarian discrimination would be a logical first step, wouldn’t it?

  • james

    Seems reasonable to me.

  • PeterOHanrahahanrahan

    Ulster-Scots is clachan ebonics with a dry-land navy of whingers (stick-in-the-mud unionists) attached, and should remain the cultural curio it is, on a par with the “dialects” of Yorkshire and Cumbria, etc., fit for amateur preservation societies, or pub trivia. The idea of giving it parity of esteem with Gaelic is ridiculous.

    Ulster Gaelic Act is a good call, though.