“In some Unionist areas, it would be tantamount to erecting a Tricolour from a flagpole.”

The root cause of our current political crisis remains political unionism’s opposition to the development of a shared and equal Northern Ireland.

Of course, twas ever thus.

The Loyal Sons will not be rerouted on their fateful march to Ulster’s precipice in spite of more enlightened pro-Union voices regularly exposing the hypocrisy and instinctively supremacist thinking at the core of Unionist politics.

The News Letter’s recent campaign rallying Protestant and Unionist opinion against an Irish Language Act has included a remarkably non-newsworthy front page lead proclaiming that the Orange Order Grand Master opposed an Irish Language Act (I kid you not.)

But this gem, from the DUP’s East Antrim MP, Sammy Wilson, in today’s paper stands out for obvious reasons:

[On Irish language road signs] But Mr Wilson has claimed such a move would prove “foolish and divisive”, adding: “It would lead to Irish street signs being imposed in places where they are not welcome and where few people would understand them. In some unionist areas, it would be tantamount to erecting a tricolour from a flagpole. They would be vandalised and torn down.”
In the centre of the overwhelmingly nationalist village of Crumlin, of which I am a resident, a Union Flag is currently flying from a flagpole.
Across the north, in many majority nationalist towns and villages, unionist flags fly from flagpoles (and quite a few lamp posts.)
In many of these same towns and villages, many roads, bridges and buildings are named for British and Unionist figures from our past.
There are quite a few British war memorials dotted across town and village centres where nationalists form a clear majority of the local residents.
Should they all be renamed, vandalised or torn down, Sammy?
  • Skibo

    If a part of society is not properly represented, then positive discrimination can be used to reset the levels.
    This was most clearly required in the Police and that criteria was dropped too early.
    In the end, there would not be discrimination as the requirement for the ability to speak Irish would be part of the job description.

  • james
  • Skibo

    James, your problem in the end is you view equality as the ability for all to be equally British and view anything that does not recognise the domination of British over all other as a form of a loss of rights by the British people.
    The odd thing is your right to be British is preserved and protected. The Irish community are demanding the same.

  • Aodh Morrison

    How many of the (nominally) Protestant people discriminated against in Police recruitment do you imagine felt ‘positively’ about the experience?

  • james

    “If a part of society is not properly represented, then positive discrimination can be used to reset the levels.”

    Well this is actually quite interesting. Fair play to you.

    Which groups would you say are currently under-represented in the civil service? Which groups are there ‘too many’ of?

    And how would an ILA fix that?

  • Aodh Morrison

    You have provided an insight into your own internal Cultural Calculator- a language gains more points than a dialect it seems.

    How does the Calculator compute poetry versus prose, painting versus sculpture, music versus acting?

  • james

    Hmm…

    You say that ” (my) problem in the end is (I) view equality as the ability for all to be equally British and view anything that does not recognise the domination of British over all other…”

    But I’ve suggested a joint and equal I&USLA – In what way is that a means to further the ‘domination of British over all other’ – because I just can’t see your logic there.

  • Skibo

    Aodh a dialect and a full blown language are not comparable. Not when you consider the position that the English language holds in society.
    Why are you trying to find a comparison within the arts?
    A language is a language. A dialect is the localising of a language. Is it a fair comparison between a dialect and a language or merely a political stunt to try and hide an Irish language Act within a multitude of different dialects and languages and so not give the Irish language the place it deserves within our society as the native language of here.

  • Skibo

    You are comparing a full blown language to a dialect of English with a few Scottish phrases thrown in.
    I cannot see your logic. Irish is the native language of here and should have a position of respect.
    Stop trying to turn it into a Republican v Unionist squabble and take ownership of it.
    The Irish Language has it’s own dialects within it. Had Unionism taken ownership of the Ulster or Donegal dialect, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
    In the end, you will oppose it as it is something that makes this place a bit more different to Finchley and links it with the rest of Ireland. Dog in a manger attitude. You can’t eat hay you know but you can speak Irish!

  • Skibo

    A language is only a load of words and phrases and cannot be politicised by its use. A Unionist can use the Irish language to profess what they believe is the merits of the union with Britain. Does that make it part of the British establishment?
    The politicisation of the Irish language is happening by the refusal of the Unionist political parties to block the British legislation that should have brought the ILA into existence long before now.

  • Skibo

    At least he turned up. Neither the DUP nor the UUP put a politician up. Says alot for their confidence in their position.
    In the end we are in Ireland, the part still controlled by the UK but still Ireland. Irish is our native language. US is a dialect of English. It deserves support but a full blown Act? Even the Scottish do not offer it such support.

  • Skibo

    I expect equal treatment of Irish and English. There the comparison ends. Ulster Scots is a dialect of English and should be covered within the requirements of the English language.

  • james

    I think you need to get over the superiority complex re: the Irish language, to be honest. Both Irish and US are worthy of respect and what better way to send a message of equality and muyual acceptance than an I&USLA which supports both equally.

  • Aodh Morrison

    The “comparison within the arts” is made by many who champion an ILA. The argument being it is about respect for “Irish culture”. I was trying to explore the metrics of your cultural calculations, as you have (twice) promoted the Irish Language over Ulster Scots, i.e. one cultural expression being more worthwhile than another. Seeking your take on other cultural pursuits would clarify the worth you apply to such things. But, ok, so you’ve avoided that question. I’ll forget that one.

    No one is prevented from learning or speaking Irish. Indeed they only require another Irish speaker to converse with, and, job done.

    The State even facilitates that by funding Irish Medium Education.

    I’m at a loss about the bee in your bonnet about English though, given that you obviously partake. Surely the only option for a true believer is to shun the Invaders’ Tongue? I promise I’ll follow you on Google Translate, should I get enthused enough that is.

  • james

    And, yes, I give J o’D full marks for turning up and facing the music. Fair play to him.

    He couldn’t answer the question, but at least he was there to hear it.

  • Skibo

    Just because the answer was not the one you wanted does not say he didn’t answer the question.

  • Skibo

    I do not have a superiority complex regarding the Irish language. I have my O’level in Irish (showing my age!) but I have continued over the last couple of years to try and refresh it.
    As I keep saying to you, you cannot equate a language with a dialect. Ulster Scots is at the same level of the Toon dialect or the Yorkshire dialect but not the Cornish language of the Welsh language and definitely not equal to the Irish language.

  • james

    Listen again. He definitely did not answer the question.

  • Skibo

    While I am not fluent in Irish, far from it, I also support disability rights. I didn’t feel the need to become disabled to be able to support the rights of the disabled.
    I also support the LGBT community but do not come from it either.
    The fact of learning Irish is not what the ILA is all about. It will not force anyone to learn the Irish Language.
    It puts a level of protection in for those who wish to immerse themselves in Irish. What is the issue of having Irish on road signs if English is there also?
    In the end as I keep repeating Ulster Scots is a dialect of English. It should be supported and I defend the right of people to speak it. It is not though, a language in its own right.
    Incidentally Google translate is not that accurate. I would suggest you head up the Newtownards road and attend few classes.

  • Skibo

    Perhaps you didn’t read my response. Just because the answer he gave was not to your satisfaction, it does not automatically compute that he did not answer the question.

  • Damien Mullan

    “Surely the only option for a true believer is to shun the Invaders’ Tongue?”

    That might have been a possibility had an Irish Legislature and Executive been solely Irish in the early and mid 19th century, when English began to eclipse Irish as the dominate medium of communication. As an Irish middle class developed, it was necessary for their interaction with the organs of the state that they be proficient in English, this is why Daniel O’Connell encouraged the Irish people to become proficient in English, which the Catholic Church duly obliged from the mid 19th century on wards, this process was further accelerated when the Great Famine wiped out subsistence indigent populations likes the Cottier class. A prefect storm engulfed the fortunates of the Irish language, a pincer movement, of an emerging Irish middle class opting for English as a means to advance within or around the British State in Ireland, and the Famine wiping out swathes of the lower echelons of the uneducated poor.

    What’s done is done, to engage in a futile effort to revive the Irish language towards its once dominate status across this island would be impractical, for many reasons chief among them would be its impediment as a barrier between Ireland and her diaspora. What would be more practical would be greater proficiency, greater bilingualism, the Irish language as a medium of cultural exploration and discovery.

    As for the merging of an Irish Language Act with an Ulster Scots Act, why the need for such an exercise, given the dearth of legislation that tends to go through Stormont, why not have two separate Acts, one for the Irish Language and one for Ulster Scots, or is there a fear that an Ulster Scots Act might be exposed without the weight of an actual language to piggy back on.

  • james

    “I have my O’level in Irish”

    My compliments. I don’t.

    But here’s a question: if you and I were up for the same job (all other factors being equal) would you feel that your ‘O’ level should get you over the line, at my expense?

  • james

    Yes, fair point.

    What was his answer to the question?

  • Damien Mullan

    Even those Nationalists that fought were ambivalent about the war and its legacy. The idea that their prodigy ought to buy into a British imperial narrative of the war, which their ancestors rejected, seems perverse to me. After all, Nationalists and Unionists fighting in the trenches could not possibly have been fighting for the same thing, with Nationalists fighting as a down payment for Home Rule for Ireland, while Unionists fought against that object.

  • New Yorker

    Mary Russell

    You take the position that we had better get back to the “Tower of Babel” rather that strive to speak as universal a language as possible. I think your position is absurd. There are probably hundreds of indigenous languages that no longer exist because some languages are superseded by others. Why opt for one version of Irish you prefer than say, Fir Bolg, which was truly an indigenous language. I have heard many stories, songs and craic in English which are excellent. The language of the Irish people is English as history developed and there is no serious linguist who thinks there will ever be a revival of Irish.

    In addition, road signs and other signage in dual language is just confusing and can be dangerous. Many people of both communities told me that.

    Have a nice little Irish speaking club that is self-funded. Do not expect others to pay for such silliness.

    The unionists have a point when they claim republicans use this issue as a political cudgel. I’m not against Irish, just sop trying to force it on people and pretend it is a legitimate issue when it is both absurd and retrogressive.

  • Jack Hemsworth

    Not sure if Chris missed this when he was mulling over his article.

    In some republican areas, it would be tantamount to erecting a Union flag from a flagpole.”
    Sinn Fein MLA Mr Flanagan said: “As far as I know they have not been stolen. In one area the sign is just lying there I am told.” But he said he would not condemn the actions of local people. “Putting up the signs was pretty petty behaviour by Danny Kennedy and people have responded by taking this into their own hands”.

    http://www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk/news/northern-ireland/no-welcome-for-northern-ireland-border-signs-as-theyre-ripped-down-in-protest-28779286.html

  • Skibo

    That would depend on the criteria for the job. If there was a requirement for Irish, I would have an advantage as you would not reach the criteria. If not then it would all be down to an interview and how well we sell ourselves.
    If we were equal in all but I had my Irish O’Level as well, then surely I would be higher qualified.
    If I go out fishing today and catch five fish and you go out tomorrow and catch four, does that make me a better fisherman because I have Irish?

  • Mary Russell

    And yet funding, support and status are the very things that would help the language to grow.

  • james

    Indeed – but why do we need to put a requirement for Irish?

  • Skibo

    Well James if there is a requirement for say the housing executive to be able to take calls in Irish as well as English, there would be a requirement for the receptionist to call on an Irish speaker. There is a similar requirement in Wales for Welsh speakers.

  • james

    Sure. But a whole lot of people in Wales speak Welsh…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Certainly Ted, I thought Ballycastle would have covered that but fair enough.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    And the Glens of Antrim…

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    True. Frustratingly true Ruairi, that’s the path I wish they’d choose.

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    “There is of course an irony in the notion that a man who supports the untrammeled right of Loyalists to march through every area of every town and city to be offended by the idea of having to march past a sign in Irish the next time he gets to play Loyalist tunes in a Nationalist village.”

    I just put it down to good old fashioned Orange Order hypocrisy.

    “Do you think, for example the people of Rasharkin who would be deprived of their ability to use their own village, hemmed in by police in their own homes might feel that they are considerably more put out than an Orangeman who is subjected to seeing a street name in Irish?”

    Yes. And I know you know that I believe so.

    And you know that I know you know that I believe so.

    “SF may be part of the problem in many people’s eyes, but whoever we deemed to elect was going to have to push this issue forward and it turned out to be them. So Unionists saying – we would, but we won’t because we hate SF – doesn’t really wash as a reasonable excuse to push back. It just seems like the OO saying no because the people asking are Catholics and the OO don’t like Catholics.”
    I think unionists love the perception of ‘getting one over’ on SF, even when they actually aren’t (like the last election) and thinks like Gaelic get caught in the middle, more’s the pity.

    “It comes down to whether we can or will tolerate any aspects of each other’s identity and culture. In Nationalism we are forced to accommodate orange marches that have been extremely hostile to us over many years. In majority Nationalist areas, the upper Ormeau is a good example as a former Unionist area which is now a Unionist minority area, Unionist flags are erected on every lamp post.”

    I think nationalists accommodate too many parades and flags to be honest, but, like the ILA, they have on occasion used the wrong tool for the job.

    I believe the current approach of using SF as a battering ram is the wrong approach and that’s what I am criticising.

    I am a pragmatist (somethimes) and believe people should adopt the course most likely to yield results rather than adopt a ‘principled’ stance with a lesser chance of success.

    “We are simply saying now we would like to make our mark on this place where we exist. We have no bridges, buildings, streets or statues. We don’t have the parades, and we do about 1% of the flagging (thankfully). It’s got to the point now decades after the new NI supposedly dawned on us where we’re saying no to being fobbed off any more. Unionism is clearly never going to ‘give’ us the ability to make our mark on this place, so we’re just going to have to take it instead.”

    I see, so contrary to what other articles on this site have said Irish is in fact the property of one community after all?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    Et tu Ted-e?

  • Am Ghobsmacht

    That is correct Donall, it would be a huge help.
    Alas, a similar problem is in place; a large scale introduction of the language would be seen as a SF master plan to ‘fenianise’ Protestants.
    BTW, there are some state schools that offer the subject.

  • Dónall

    The option to learn Irish must be offered in state schools. I put the emphasis on offered. It would be the choice of the child and it could be done with no extra cost in conjunction with a school that already offers Irish.

  • Dónall

    Runnymede, we don’t live in England. And the names we speak of are Irish names. Live with it.

  • Aodh Morrison

    “The fact of learning Irish is not what the ILA is all about……..It puts a level of protection in for those who wish to immerse themselves in Irish.”

    Sinn Féin argues that the ILA it is promoting is about “respecting Irish nationalism”, a partisan political agenda as I have argued. As an activist supporter of an ILA you will no doubt condemn this. Perhaps you could also point out instances where others in the Irish Language community have challenged equating Irish with political Irish nationalism?

    I haven’t been on the Newtownards Road in many years. I can’t see a reason for changing that.

    I have already said that the Irish Language is meaningless to me. My complete lack of interest in the Irish Language does not make me any less Irish than those who seem to need to reinforce their personal identities by surrounding themselves in Irish Language signage and who seek legislation to support them buying a Belfast Bap via ‘the medium of Irish’.

  • Dónall

    England is not to be used as a model for everything we do
    Runnymede. England’s placenames have been influenced by Celtic, Germanic, Viking and Norman-French.

    In Ireland north and south our names still mean something and people want to know about this. Rather than the arbitury meaning Belfast we have Béal Feirste (the mouth of the farset river). There is so much history in that name that we could talk about it for hours. Belfast’s underground river, the ships coming up highstreet, the river flowing through the mud flats upon which Belfast is built indicated in the name Ballyhackamore – Baile an Chacamair – town of the
    mudflats. But barely anywhere in the city is this name acknowledged. The English spelling is useful as it aids pronounciation but the Irish should also be acknowledged. It is an important part of my identity and history and I think it would be nice if this was acknowledged publically. It might seem like a small thing to you but in Irish culture placenames are very important as they carry the story of our people.

  • Skibo

    I tend to agree with SF that it is about respecting Irish culture, Irish Nationalism and the Irish language.
    If the DUP had followed up the SAA with an ILA, even a watered down version of the Welsh act or introduce a fund cap, we could see that there was respect for the Irish diaspora but they did not see the relevance of showing the Irish diaspora any element of protection or respect.
    Signage is the simplest form of visual recognition. It does not have to cost a fortune. The original signs could be kept and the Irish added to it. New signs should be ordered with Irish already on it.
    It does not leave the signs illegible to English speakers but affords the Irish speakers an element of ownership.

  • Skibo

    Superiority complex? For Irish? Written in English?
    I respect the Ulster Scots but you cannot equate a dialect of the English language and the Irish language.
    You can equate Irish and English as separate languages.

  • Aodh Morrison

    Well we got there in the end!

    My, my how easily the Irish Language is reduced to a mere political tool. One used to advance a nationalist agenda (and the mindset of the most strident of unionists confirmed in their prejudices).

    It is about Irish Nationalism (indeed AN Irish culture) after all. The hostage Language is tied up in the corner whilst the Shinners shout demands through the windows of Connolly House.

    Strangely enough actual Irish Language enthusiasts may not be, as one might assume, outraged that their interests are held to ransom as a partisan political pawn. Rather it is the opposite that appears to be the case.

    Still, I suppose, whittling away some of the disingenuous nature of the nationalist debate on the Irish Language is to be welcomed.

    My work here is done.

  • Skibo

    You got where in the end?
    Recognition of Irish language and Irish culture has been politicised by Unionism for nearly one hundred years. They refuse to accept that it is part of the North.
    Why can the Irish element of the North not be recognised and cherished?
    I suggest to you that you see any strengthening of the recognition of Irish within the North as a weakening of the symbol of Britishness in the North and that is what Unionism fears most of all.
    By the way I am an Irish enthusiast. I have as much right to defend the Irish language as the next person.
    Tell me do you fear Irish being spoken by people in the North?

  • Georgie Best

    Unionism is not opposed to the development of a shared and equal
    Northern Ireland. There is more than one image of what that looks like

    Quite. The unionist image is that unionist things are defined as “shared” and that the norms of Irish life are defined as “divisive”. While all politicians are known for a shamelessness, the sheer continuity and scale of unionist hypocrisy is truly remarkable.

    It also hasn’t set out what quid pro quo unionists could expect

    They can’t expect anything, as this is merely reducing hundreds of years of historical discrimination, no reward is deserved for discriminating less.

    In any case whataboutery is not the way forward and the relentless calls for this and that as a distraction show exactly how little unionists actually value the notion of an equal society.

  • Aodh Morrison

    “Why can the Irish element of the North not be recognised and cherished?”

    The “Irish element” that you refer to can be recognised and cherished by anyone so inclined. You’ll no doubt be surprised to learn, for example, that there are no pickets outside publicly-funded Irish Medium Schools. In council areas where nationalists hold sway Irish Language signage is evident, again at a cost to the public. So even official bodies recognise and cherish elements of Irishness.

    Of course when you reference the “Irish element” you bring to the table a particular kind of Irishness, a nationalist perspective of what Irishness is. There is nothing more elementary Irish than the Orange Order: do you recognise and cherish it? Ulster Scots is embedded in NI (the clue is in the name). Is it equally recognised and cherished?

    The difficulty for you and those who think like you is that nationalists, lead by Sinn Fein, are politicising Irish in the here and now. You “tend” to support that partisanship. That’s fine. You are free to have whatever opinion you wish, and to campaign for it. It is however unrealistic to hope that your political opponents will support you in your efforts. No matter how much your argument is couched in terms of faux ‘respect’ and ‘equality’.

    An example about ‘respect’ and ‘equality’. In Newry, Mourne and Down council area vandalised Irish language signage has been replaced, in places several times (I condemn the vandalism). In the same area signs that once read ‘Northern Ireland’, and now curtesy of vandals, read ‘Ireland’ have remained untouched in their damaged state. Not much equality and respect there is there?

    Do I “fear Irish being spoken by people in the North?”. Not at all. Chatter away to your hearts’ content. I’ll even live with having my rates and tax help fund those conversations. That being said I will not support a partisan nationalist political agenda.

    Btw, “the North”? Surely that’s not a disrespectful reference to Northern Ireland, the legal (and GFA agreed) name of this region of the U.K.?

  • Skibo

    Are you imposing on me a demand to call this region Northern Ireland?
    The issue of the ILA is the legislative protection that is required to stop some ardent Unionist politicians from taking away those hard earned rights of Irish recognition.
    What you need to realise is that around 48% of the population recognise themselves as coming from the Nationalist/ Irish community.
    There is no shortage of recognition of the British way of life. The Irish element has been buried as deep as Unionism could get away with. If let have their way, they would chip away at what has been achieved.
    Ulster Scots is an Antrim dialect of English.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    sounds like an argument for one-way traffic. Is that really a sensible approach, with NI’s delicate ethnic balance?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    and those things can all be enhanced in new culture legislation. But we need to see exactly what is being asked for, I wouldn’t just give unlimited funding and carte blanche. We need to be debating the terms of the legislation really. I am on board with doing something and am open to being persuaded about what Irish needs and what is appropriate for it.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I do blame them as well

  • Tochais Siorai

    Fire ahead. However, the point remains if they don’t get a substantive ILA before going back into govt. the nationalist electorate will tell them pretty forcefully that the DUP don’t want anything to do with a shared society and are running rings around them. Again.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    can you accept there needs to be something for both sides though? Unionists have a perception that some nationalists want not a balanced N Ireland but a “greened” one. It’s not unreasonable for unionists to have concerns about that, given the leading party of nationalism’s record on this.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    they would be wrong though. We can’t just give in to that kind of stubborn, me-me-me attitude, because everyone could take that approach and we have conflicting desires and needs. There’s no way around the need for compromise.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    to have a shared society it helps to have some awareness of which aspects of our cultures are shared and which are more particular to one community – and apply appropriate sensitivity when pushing the latter in the public square.

  • Mary Russell

    Unionists perceive that an Irish Language Act and what it entails is a greening of Northern Ireland. Nationalist think it’s a rebalancing of the perception that this place belongs to one tradition, when in fact there are two traditions here.

    Look around you. There are symbols of the British tradition everywhere, and that is fine but there should be some obvious signs that a different indigenous tradition lives here too.
    The most part of July is taken up celebrating the Unionist tradition, does this happen for any aspect of the Irish tradition. There is nothing wrong with Unionist celebrating their traditions, but it should be reciprocated with similar prominance for the Irish traditions.

    I understand why Unionism would think that this is greening Northern Ireland, but maybe that’s because for so long they have only see the reflection of their own tradition when they’ve looked at Northern Ireland.
    Nationalist don’t want a greater representation of their traditions than Unionism, they would like the same representation.

    When you say there needs to be something for Unionism, is that something an Ulster Scots language act.? I would have no problem with a separate language Act for Ulster Scots, but not a joint act. Reason being under the European Charter Irish has been designated part 2 and 3 status, Ulster Scots have been designated part 2. That is why the language act must reflect that, and two separate acts would be the best option. This of course is only my humale opinion.

  • Tochais Siorai

    But of course as has been pointed oft times before, if the DUP wants to make NI a more inclusive place and by doing so help to neutralise moderate nationalist opinion, it would make sense for them to look at the longer term.

    But they won’t, will they?

  • Georgie Best

    All aspects of culture are not shared by somebody. The public square should be for all the public, activities promoting or celebrating violence etc may be sensitive, but other things should be open to everyone.