Light-fingered DUP “Culture Crocs” prepare to exploit ‘new model’ Acht?

I was asked on Friday if I thought there would be a resolution to the current impasse and answered honestly with a “no idea” that brought only the inevitable derisory laughter at a public pundit declaring himself unable to take a punt.

But as Patrick Murphy in the Irish News on Saturday joyfully declared:

This is a difficult time for astrologers, especially those who dabble in British and Irish politics. It is not much fun for columnists either, because whatever about the other heavenly bodies, this part of our planet faces three unpredictable outcomes regarding future developments in Stormont, Westminster and Leinster House.

The difficulty arises from the extemporaneous nature of Stormont’s collapse.  Sinn Fein’s exit was notable by its haste and untidiness leaving them with an internal power vacuum derived from Martin McGuinness’s untimely departure and death.

On the face of it, an unfeasibly slender bottleneck must be traversed before Northern Irish democracy can be re-assembled. On Friday, Alex Kane noted this research from LucidTalk:

66 per cent of DUP supporters—and almost 50 per cent of UUP/TUV/UKIP/PUP voters—are opposed to an Irish language act. When DUP voters were asked the question, ‘If the DUP judged that it suited DUP objectives to agree to a NI Irish Language Act, say as an overall agreement with SF, as a DUP voter would you agree with this?’, 50 per cent wouldn’t.

That will make Arlene Foster think twice before moving beyond the olive branch (legislation for a wider language and culture act) she offered Sinn Féin last week. And with around 70 per cent of Sinn Féin voters opposed to setting up the executive in the absence of an Irish language act, Michelle O’Neill will also be treading very carefully.

There are concerns at the UK government level that the local institutions are back up in time for publication of the Coghlin review, which gives us at least a couple of years. That would fit with reports that Sinn Fein wants the time frame to stretch to any spring election in the Republic.

The DUP has business in Westminster to attend (swapping favours between the Tories and Labour to remind everyone they’re not bought into everything the government wants), whilst Sinn Fein is fighting a southern rearguard against attacks from Fianna Fail over their collapse of Stormont.

The DUP will not want to abandon its newly found higher moral ground (being the party that stuck with the institutions set up under the Belfast Agreement) and is unlikely to force a rushed return to Stormont on Sinn Fein. The SoS is unlikely to do anything too drastic either.

For their part, Sinn Fein is still blaming the DUP for its own walkout:

The ongoing crisis is the culmination of successive financial scandals associated with the DUP, the failure to implement past agreements, and the rejection of proper power-sharing and partnership, and the failure to reciprocate significant gestures of reconciliation.

Increasingly the integrity of the political institutions has been eclipsed by The DUP’s hostility towards the Bill of Rights, an Irish Language Act, marriage equality and issues such as anti-poverty and racial equality strategies, tackling sectarianism, or dealing with the past have defined that party’s mind set towards working in the Executive and Assembly.

In fact, the bill of rights was tried twice and failed twice because the local human rights lobby insisted (against the better counsel of one former Human Rights Commissioner) on a maximal bill. Ditto, Sinn Fein’s promises to the sector over the Irish language bill.

In both cases, they’ve only succeeded in demonising the language and any prospective Act in the eyes of the wider unionist electorate and making delivery just that wee bit more impossible within the confines of the institutions of the Belfast Agreement.

But Powersharing ≠ Give us everything we ask for. Without the intervention of local political grown-ups, this is a game which, apparently, the two main protagonists believe can go on indefinitely.

It was ever thus. Back in 2009, just two years into the restart of Stormont, I noted that: “between the chuckling and the icy silences and internal miscommunication, we have stasis in Stormont Castle.” Not much has changed since: nor is it likely to. [Happy Groundhog Day! – Ed]

The non-arrival of the Irish Language Act is a sin of a now long defunct UK administration (see Annex A), not the DUP. So SF’s argument in this regard has all the force and currency of a 1967 ten bob note.

Indeed, it seems only to have encouraged the DUP’s own light-fingered “culture crocs” to enhance the pitch and scale of their demands through a combined culture act. That’s not something that will go down well with the highly educated (and cultured) folks at An Dream Dearg.

Despite shipping heavy criticism from Jim Allister last Friday, Nelson McCausland did a reasonable job of outlining how Irish language broadcast outputs had few analogs for the Ulster Scots, English and Orange traditions. [What about Walter Love on the 12th? – Ed]. Well, exactly.

Commencement of the RHI Inquiry proper has been pushed back to November, the original trigger for the collapse has been long-fingered. The real problem remains how government can emerge from parties who are seemingly incapable of dealing straight through the middle?

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

  • Skibo

    But I AM a TAX PAYER! Do I and the many others like me not have a right to have recognition of the symbols of my culture?
    By the way I was not condemning the British symbols all over the place, just recognising that Unionists bawl their eyes out when Nationalist want recognition yet they have their symbols everywhere.

  • Ben De Hellenbacque

    I never even intimated that “Irish Culture works as [my] template for all culture”. In fact I’d fiercely challenge any such assertion. It is your position that is locked into the endless hamster wheel of identity defensiveness and retaliation. What you appropriate as Unionist Culture is merely a reactive adoption/mirroring of a SF tactic.

    “it has some very distinct elements to it, not just in its unique local elements of symbols, places, names, turn of phrase, cultural references etc, but also in its unique mix of those local elements with other shared aspects of British and indeed Irish cultures. There isn’t another group quite like us in outlook, history and sense of ourselves. And yes sometimes that even comes out in good cultural output.”

    I have no disagreement with that whatsoever. Nonetheless what you’ve described couldn’t compete with SF’s very effective appropriation of everything requiring “Hibernian” linguistic, musical or artistic skill. Application of skill is additional to mindset and way of life (which is identical to each tribe in my opinion.)

    What I question is the panicked scrambling around to invent a distinct cultural identity that bolts on manufactured contrivances and then claim it’s always been there, particularly when it’s a response to a new strategy SF set up. Folk culture evolves over time as you know. When culture is artifice then it is self consciously so. Cadbury’s Smash or Pot Noodle ‘culture’ is what it is but it has to be recognised as such and isn’t convincing when submitting to SF’s own contrivance: the Culture War.

  • Skibo

    I have never found the reason to travel through Scotland looking for signs but I have been in Scotland and fairly recently and did not see three languages on the road signs.
    I admit I don’t travel far but that does not mean I have a closed mind. I merely used the wiki link to show a sign with two languages. Was it air brushed?
    You mention how well Scotland get on with their other languages but then they do have a Language Act. Perhaps if Unionism had not objected so profusely against coming to terms with sharing with their Nationalist neighbours, we would get along too.
    As regards R Burns, I did not bring him up, you did. The comment I raised, I stand over. US is a dialect. Are you telling me that Burns wrote in Ulster Scots?
    Does Scotland have an act for Scots?
    No need to apologise, debating is not about trying to get people to apologise but to accept that we do not all think the same and difference does not necessarily mean wrong.

  • Skibo

    Ta me go maith.
    Still not sure how to get the fada on this lap top.

  • Skibo

    I agree with your analysis. Perhaps 4 was the closest with Sinn Fein believing that the DUP had moved enough to realise they needed to offer some semblance of a shared power.
    For Sinn Fein, Stormont will only ever result in check as for them to achieve their final solution, Stormont will be a thing of the past or at least phased out as Unionism realise they have nothing to fear from taking their seats in the Dail.
    Stormont is a win for Unionism but a draw for Nationalism while Unionists have a majority. When it tilts the other way they may not be as pushed to save it. Perhaps that is part of the problem as Unionism sees the usefulness of Stormont coming to an end!

  • Skibo

    Same old same old! blind people with facts and manipulate them what ever way you can. Any money spent within the Education department is money that would always have to be spent in the department and is not money solely for the promotion of the Irish language. Nor should it be included in the cost of an Irish Language Act.
    Why is there no schools teaching in Ulster Scots?
    As Ulster Scots is a dialect of the English language should we be including the cost of schooling children in the English Language in the figures?

  • Skibo

    Ben, I learned Ulster Irish. Never heard of Prison Irish unless it is meant as a slur on Irish spoken with a Belfast accent.
    Could it just be that of an insult to be thrown at any Sinn Fein member speaking Irish?

  • Aodh Morrison

    If you are not “looking for signs” it is hardly a surprise that you “did not see three languages on the road signs.”

    I do ‘look for signs’, it is incumbent on me do so as I drive along. I have not noted three languages on road signs either (although I can’t say that about all signage in Scotland).

    In some areas I have observed two languages. In places, the Western Isles being one, the combination is English and Scottish Gaelic, in others its English and Scots. I suspect this phenomenon may have something to do with local sensibilities and desires.

    As I have already explained Scotland has in fact two language acts. One on Scottish Gaelic, one on BSL. The Scottish Government is formulating policy on Scots. Will this lead to an Act? I don’t know.

    I’ll set aside the implication in your comments that an ILA is a thing for the DUP’s “Nationalist neighbours” and not a nonpartisan cultural pursuit open to all – the DUP and other unionists’ argument I believe.

    Sinn Féin’s inability to do politics and to bring forward a workable compromise is I’m sure lamented by genuine Irish Language enthusiasts.

    Robert Burns most famously wrote in Scots not Ulster Scots. I’ll leave you to Wikipedia to explore the connections between them.

    Obviously I withdraw my apology.

  • Skibo

    Much the safer ploy. How can a society that parades all over the country in hundreds venues at an ever increasing frequency be said to be vilified!
    Still waiting for an example of where Sinn Fein unilaterally blocked something on Unionism.

  • james

    I was going to break down your response into chunks but (and I am sorry to say so – but it’s true) it is difficult to understand your points precisely because of your writing style. I can only get the gist of it – which seems to be that calls for an Act to sponsor, promote and protect Irish are sincere, while people who are of an Ulster Scots background cannot be sincere in calling for a very similar thing.

    The problem is, in essence, much the same as the duplicity with sustained the terrorist groups on both sides – and continues to support them in their present incarnation (at least on the Republican side – Sinn Fein continue to benefit from this willful moral blindness to the war crimes/ crimes some of their members committed, while their Loyalist counterparts have at least been marginalized). You, and others see immense value in things which come from one community – and none in things which come from the other. The effect of this hypocrisy is interesting. The outworkings of a standalone ILA would have some very dire (un?)intended consequences – namely to legalize discrimination, to impose territorial markers on areas according to majority religious group (and woe betide the minority if they speak up), and the very public ‘branding’ of Northern Ireland as Irish, or even Republican ‘territory’. These are things we must take seriously. And the malign intent behind the motivations of at least some people is very clear – and this is something we absolutely must take seriously. We cannot let exhaustion and/or boredom allow us to give in those who wish to sow some very divisive seeds here.

    Of course, there are some good things being proposed in an ILA – and I have slowly shifted my view from feeling that we absolutely don’t need this to something like ‘ok, there is clearly a vocal minority who want this, so let’s try and sift out the positive aspects and put together something that won’t break the bank.’

    Hence my support for an inclusive, equal, and all-embracing I&USLA. This allows us to promote the linguistic, cultural, social, musical and literary aspects of both traditions

  • Skibo

    The issue of the language acts in Scotland is important. They do not have a language act for Scots. Possibly something to do with the fact that there are ten different dialects.
    The issue of a language act in Northern Ireland for Irish is that Unionism do not want to recognise the fact that Irish is part of society.
    Irish as a language, is there for all to learn if they want and take ownership of.
    As for the ability of Sinn Fein to find compromise, I believe the compromise on the ILA was compromised in the SAA annex B. Why would they want to find a compromise of a compromise?

  • Mike the First

    A valid and worthwhile aim, but not one I would agree should be pursued through roadsigns which are for the information of road users.

  • Mike the First

    Someone can object to something without being offended by it.

    I can’t speak for others’ reasons, but I haven’t yet heard a compelling reason for NI’s roadsigns going bilingual. I think cultural engineering would be a pretty poor reason for doing so.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    It suppose it depends on whether you see these exercises in generating cultural linkages as a rediscovery/reconnection with an aspect of the past that has been lost, or a mere invention of something fabricated. I’d see it as more the former, though any cultural reconnection is a creative and selective process of course.

    As a (lapsed) Ulster Prod, I really do feel we were until a bit of a revival of interest in the 80s and since, under-represented and poorly represented in the telling of the story of the island. We are an amalgam of people from different origins but we have come together over centuries and become a distinct people, I think, if a loosely bound one. But I think it’s perfectly valid to become more aware of our own history and seek not to have it always told through an Irish, or more specifically an Irish nationalist, lens. In that lens, we are defined through our interaction with nationalists – which tends to privilege the confrontational aspects of our behaviour and culture – rather than evaluated in our own terms.

    Say what you like about the Scots language/dialect, but it does get us away from that dynamic, as well as having deep and real roots in our history and ancestry. It resonates with a lot of people. Sure some think it’s silly and I can see how aspects of it can be; but on the whole I rather like reconnection with a deeper past.

  • Skibo

    Not cultural engineering. That happened many many years ago.
    Put it down to a visible sign of accepting our shared space. That some people have as much right to feel British as others have of feeling Irish.

  • Oggins


    I have said several times. I am not sure why your struggling. I am calling for a stand alone Irish Act, because there has been movement and an attempt for this.

    I have only heard a culture act, and I believe it is purely done political as themuns. As I said it’s if they get something we need something. I don’t know how many time’s I need to type this. It’s child like and doesn’t have the maturity. There has been no backing from this until now. This is wrong. THIS IS making languages and dialects a political weapon.

    To add to this Irish and Ulster Scots are a language and dialect, should not be lobbed in with an act on marching, flegs and all the other stuff both sides do. The Act is on a language not Culture. I don’t want my language are our dialect diluted with flags and marching.

    I am not sure on your rant above on terrorism and parties and all that guff has to do with the Act. Nor matter what you think, we have had a peace process and SF have a mandate. Get over it.

    You can wish all you want they and the DUP have 300k+ of mandates.

    So again, HAPPY for a discussion on US dialect being protected, but get the people responsible to draft something to discuss. Don’t just lob it in because of themuns. The Irish language groups have caught the USA on the hop. They have been working hard for years for this and shouldnt be treated in one stop culture shop.

  • james

    “I have said several times. I am not sure why your struggling.”

    I am not struggling at all

    “I am calling for a stand alone Irish Act, because there has been movement and an attempt for this.”

    Calling for something simply because someone else is calling for it would seem rather a farcical reason for calling for it.

    “I have only heard a culture act, and I believe it is purely done political as themuns”

    No idea what this means.

    “As I said it’s if they get something we need something.”

    Most supporters of an ILA on here say they want an act and it’s only fair because Wales has one. You think now that is not a reasonable justification? You should talk to Concubhar.

    “I don’t know how many time’s I need to type this.”

    I haven’t asked you to type anything.

    “It’s child like and doesn’t have the maturity.”


    “There has been no backing from this until now. This is wrong.”

    Wrong. Ulster Scots is not a recent phenomenon and enthusiasts have been promoting it for decades and decades.

    “THIS IS making languages and dialects a political weapon.”

    ‘This’ being….? An ILA doesn’t politicize language but an I&USLA does? Please explain.

    “To add to this Irish and Ulster Scots are a language and dialect”

    Ulster Scots is indeed a dialect – it is a dialect of the language of Scots. Just as Ulster Gaelic (presumably what is spoken by NI speakers) is a dialect of Irish. What is your point?

  • Skibo

    Well how much more visible could you get? In the end English will also be there so I don’t see any issue.

  • Gary Da;ze;;

    Perhaps you should acquaint yourself with the Newry and Mourne District Council area where the Shinner Council has forced gaelic signs on unionist areas as the primary language. Perhaps also drive the road to Londonderry where road signs are routinely vandalised in nationalist areas who cannot abide the history of the London Companies in establishing the city.

  • Barneyt

    I suppose we need to look at the road renaming that went on in 1974, before we check the signs. I know roads in my area that were renamed and it makes little sense in English, phonetics or in Irish. There is a road in my townland, called the old road. In 74 they decided to rename half of it to Ballynamona. As I got older I tried to figure out where turf (mona) would have been excavated. However I learned much later, the original ballynamona was renamed, as they extended the name of a neigbouring road to cover it. If we look at the original ballynamona we can see quite clearly that it could have been Turf Town.

    It was the translation of ballynamona that raised the question for me, wheres the turf?

  • Barneyt

    I used to think that until a church of ireland friend of mine and godfather to one of my daughters pointed out he was catholic but not romain catholic. If you look at the formation of the Church of England, they are ancestrally catholic despite some early teachings absorbing from lutheranism. The protestants formed before the Anglicans and the methodists after the anglicans. All very interesting

  • Georgie Best

    This road naming was an act of cultural vandalism. They should abolish it and reintroduce townlands.

  • Barneyt

    And there is the problem. Some nationalists used the langage to get at unionism and now unionism is keeping their foot on its neck and in effect validating the orginal wrong doing. Actually I take that back as it was a stupid thing to equate the use of the language to bullets fired.

    This balacing act in certain areas must be stopped. I’ve argued that the Irish language should not be regarded as strictly cultural. Doing so allows it to be camped within nationalist territories which is a true disservice to the language. It is agnostic to many of the divides we have in NI

    I think Linda Irvine in some ways stands a better chance of extending the use of Irish in East belfast than any bunscoil could do in south armagh. Why? Because she has decamped it and treated it merely as it should be….a language that has strong relevance today.

  • Barneyt

    I’m sure south armagh holds on to the townlands (ToonlannBaile fearainn)….you see TD on most signs. Its another matter as to whether they are correct. would you not still need roads to identify at a more micro level?