Hysterical Unionist reaction to Irish Language Act proposals damage the ‘Union’

Irish speakers are entertained mightily at present by a series of memes poking fund at the Newsletter’s hysterical obsession with scare stories about what an Irish Language Act might do to Northern Ireland – the funniest features a front page story trumpeting a proposal to replace Edward Carson’s statue at Stormont with one of Peig Sayers. It would be funny except it were so serious, unionist politicians and opinion leaders have got it all wrong.

At a time when increasing political uncertainty is being caused by the Brexit folly and the UK Government’s Keystone Cops approach to resolving their exit from the European Union, an Irish Language Act could very well end up saving Northern Ireland from doing its Nirexit from the UK.   I say that as a person who wants to see that happen – but as a person who wants to see a resolution to the current local impasse, I am making this contribution.

An Irish Language Act would help make Northern Ireland feel more like home for us Irish speakers and the wider community which considers itself Irish.   Some of these are those who bought the Irish News on Monday morning and, had they bothered, would have had to search inside for a mention of the qualification of the Northern Ireland team for the play-offs for the World Cup finals the previous night.  The qualification of the Republic of Ireland for the same play offs on Monday night was the front page headline on Tuesday’s Irish News, a placing helped by the fact that Derry man James McClean scored the winning goal against Wales.

There’s a deeper feeling for the Irish language in the north, where the language’s revival was led by Presbyterian Robert McAdam with support from Orange Order Grandmaster Kane back in the latter years of the 19th century.   The calls for a border poll won’t go away anytime soon and it will happen at some stage.   At that stage, like any house vendor selling a property, unionists would do well to ensure that NI is at its best, that austerity is banished, that Brexit is a bad dream from which we’ve awakened and that little things like an Irish Language Act have been sorted and are no longer bones of bitter contention.  That is if they want to assure a result which favours the Union they cherish so much.

There’s no one saying that those who consider themselves British need to give up their identity.  It doesn’t happen in the Republic of Ireland – it won’t happen in the North.  It’s just about giving those who cherish their Irishness can do so with the protection of the law, without the use of the Irish language, for instance, being banned from use in the courts.  It’s not that Irish speakers would pour into the courts like a Biblical deluge should the 1737 Penal Law ban be lifted – who wants to go to court under any circumstance – it’s just that the ban is gone.

I couldn’t have put it more pithily than the writer of the Newsletter editorial who wrote:

“They know that it will change the feel of Northern Ireland.”

Exactly.   It’s no longer a monocultural entity in which the Irish identity is kept in check lest it ‘swamp’ the ‘Province’ with bilingual signage or the likes.  It’s a more open, hospitable place in which to grow old.

It would also help those who consider themselves British and who see Irish part of the indigenous linguistic diversity of the UK.  There is no ”unionist” reason why Irish in Northern Ireland shouldn’t be treated on a par with Gaidhlig in Scotland or Welsh in Wales.    In fact, it’s distinctly anti unionist to oppose an Irish Language Act as it puts Northern Ireland on a lower step in the UK than Gaidhlig speakers in Scotland or Welsh speakers in Wales.

Would the above mentioned Edward Carson be so hysterically anti Irish language as his successors in the Ulster Unionist Party or the editorial team of the Newsletter.  Unlikely.  He was an Irish speaker himself.    I have had my own runs in with Sinn Féin over their policies and use of the Irish language in the past. The current campaign for an Irish Language Act is not a republican plot.  But if legislation continues to be denied, it will become the stepping stone to a United Ireland so feared by those who are currently in a high state of denial.

 

 

 

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  • SeaanUiNeill

    I can have no effect on Bombardier one way or another, but I can echo the informed opinion of most Canadians, that the 2015 bailout was sending good money after bad. Bombardier is a failing company who loose contracts because they are unable to meet deadlines, and can only offload the “C” Series planes at well under cost of construction…ie: dumping. I did not participate in this situation, Bombardier did it themselves! I am only telling inconvenient truths.

  • Oggins

    Not sure what dialect it was Seaan. I came across it whilst researching in the past

  • SeaanUiNeill

    When we have reunification T.E., we will be participating in a quality employment high wage economy instead of being tied to a low wage low employment economy and the unquestioned skills of our workforce will find proper expression in a sound and growing economy!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I’ve certainly been asked to explain this to people I know in both the Conservative and Labour Party when I’m over there. They are not so much laughing as perplexed at the approach of the DUP. But it is yet another nail in Unionism’s coffin amongst “ real people”!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    It was a local dialect Oggins which survived up to the 1950s, and had its own distinct character.

  • Oggins

    Aaaa, do you know where I can learn more? I have a few fluent friends, must ask them more about it.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    There is a fine study of Sperrins Irish available, and a collection of folklore ( in Irish) collected by one of the most active timiris in the region a century ago. When I am well enough to go out to my Library O will post reference to both.

  • Andy Lindsay

    Up until his death DeV told unionists they were not really Irish and they had to decide to either get with the united ireland concept or ship themselves back to Britain 😂
    Sinn Fein adopted the same agenda until late ’80’s

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Trasna is speaking for himself, and has not somehow become the numinous “ Misi Eire” you are using him here as James! Only our master King Francis II can speak for all!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Consider yourself up against the wall for the time being! My own family for one are northerners have contributed to the history and culture of Ireland for at least five hundred years and my great grandfather was even in at the creation of the IRISH Unionist Party. This is straying into the sort of definition area where Irish Americans call Dubliners “ foreign born Irish”!!!!!

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Dev did not seemingly trust anyone not step dancing at the crossroads. While SF and Dev May have been at variance over what has been described as “ the narcissism of minor difference”, difference and bitter acrimony there was. As I’ve mentioned above I had ancestors in Arvada the inception of IRISH Unionism ( his sons were Home Rulers) and I no more need Dev or And Unionist to tell me what I am that my distant Jewish cousins needed Hitler to tell them if they were German or not. The tragedy overlooked often in remembering such things is the delema of those patriotic German Jews, some decorated in the Great War, who were denied their identity by others with less claim on the country.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    I remember Gerry Lawless from the 1960s Skibo! Of course even within Irish Marxism itself “ there are many mansions……”

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Dead they may be but we are still articulating the partition tread wheel they created and acting out their encoded message that through threat or violence political goals are achievable! Do you imagine that the UVF of 1912 were just for parades? They were formed to kill British soldiers and their fellow citizens in pursuit of a political goal. That this works is the message the dead have passed down. “ The evil that men do lives after them.”

  • Mimi Balguerie

    I don’t see why promotion of Irish cultural themes is any threat to unionism.
    I don’t see how your excerpt illustrates the issue, either. Is there some problem with the PSNI having a GAA club or Irish language classes?

  • Andy Lindsay

    The main issue is attempts to make the PSNI “republican friendly”. If someone was promoting a “loyalist friendly” police force how might that workout?

  • Mimi Balguerie

    Isn’t it already very loyalist friendly?
    (exceedingly so, in the past, you could say)

    I am a republican, by dint of my politics, the very image of the young nationalists in your article, too young to remember anything about the conflict and seeking recognition in the present.
    Should I feel alienated by the police?
    Should I feel they are hostile towards me?
    Should I feel like there is no place for me in the police service?

    How is Our wee country going to survive if it makes no effort to make people like me feel included in it?

  • Aodh Morrison

    That is the kind of discourse that will always pop up when the talk of ‘nation’ comes along.

    “What ish my nation?”, as my ancestor Captain Macmorris was wont to ask (often in a rather challenging manner it has to be said) is to both indulge the ludicrous mythos of nations and nationalism and illustrate the ill-found passions that accompany that baleful philosophy.

  • Andy Lindsay

    Definitely not.

    Will you ever stop playing the victim card?

    The whole world isn’t against you. Unionists are not all against you. Neither is UK government nor Irish government nor PSNI, Garda, army, UDR.

    If a united ireland hapoened tomorrow Republicans would still find something to bitch about.

    It’s same old broken record.

  • Reader

    SeaanUiNeill: Why do so few people learn the harp?
    Because it’s an extremely difficult instrument to learn to play at all well, the music it produces does not appeal to large modern audiences and as a result the rewards of doing it are limited to a small group of fans with the same interests.
    Good comparison.

  • Reader

    Concubhar O Liathain: “There is no 10% quota for recruitment of Irish speakers in the CnaG document.
    The link says “A certain, small percentage will have to be competent…”. What percentage?
    In an office of 10 people facing the public, for instance, how many Irish speakers would be required?

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    Andy, old chap, the “Scots” came from Ireland.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As you say, an apt comparison! The Irish Harp Tradition has been described as a “ native Irish Classical music”! All culture is only maintained by minorities of specialised people, but the culture is maintained as what Ezra Pound called “‘the unearned increment of time” for the whole community, not only for those directed by the media to show interest in it. Without this our cultural experience would only have the depth of a few generations, of that. Thanks to Charlotte Milligan Fox, a Unionist incidentally, we have Bunting’s equally “minority” interest work to preserve the music and culture of the Irish Harp, a much harder instrument to play than the pedal Harp, but one with unique musical characteristics! As Grainne Yeats once said, an instrument demanding the whole person. And we have in this engagement from the community deprecating their cultural inheritance today with a shocking recklessness, a perfect, almost text book example of what can happen when politics are set aside and people of differing political persuasions co- operate to offer a gift to the whole community.

    The mentality which is all for ignoring Irish in the earlier comments, and drags out the mendacious themes of cost and minority interest are to my mind coming from the same mental climate as those Taliban and ISIS who have vandalised their own culture for ideological reasons, spuriously dressed up as religiosity. I’d not taken you for a vandal of that ilk before, Reader! But thank you for getting my name right, you’re learning a little Irish and joining the minority in spite of yourself!

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    “Our”?

  • Get The Grade Get The Grade

    No thanks. The problem with that arrangement is it will gradually become dominated by English/British agendas and policies.

    The last time we (somehow, without consultation of the Irish people) got trapped into a political arrangement with them the country became a basket case, had it’s national identity suppressed, it’s national tongue nearly wiped out, suffered hundreds of thousands of deaths through starvation and was dragged into a “Great War”! We can have cordial relationships and arrangements with our near neighbours without entering into any “federations”.

  • Mimi Balguerie

    So, then. What’s your issue with PSNI GAA teams, or the Irish language, or symbols?
    If its something that makes people feel welcome, surely that’s a good thing for Northern Ireland?

    It’s a bit strange to rally against making things “republican friendly” when the main republican party gets 30% of the vote in this place, as if there is some reason that the state should not be friendly to a large swathe of its own people. If little things like use of the Irish language can make these people feel accepted and part of the state, surely that is a positive thing – as the only way NI is going to flourish is if young nationalists buy into it.

  • Andy Lindsay

    Don’t be a dick!
    How can an impartial police force by inclined to one or other side?

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Hyperbole yes, exaggeration yes, irony no!

  • ronanpeter

    Excellent point. The economic arguments for an ILA are pretty weak. I think the economic value of Irish is even realised by first year students expected to study it. My classmates and I were able to determine very early on that the best way to spend our time in Irish class was to do homework for other classes (like Spanish).

    Culturally there is an argument but let’s not kid ourselves it will be anything other than an economic cost to the taxpayer.

  • whatif1984true

    Seaan “I SEE DEAD PEOPLE”.

  • whatif1984true

    Those who remember or are force fed history seem to have no imagination so just mimic history.

    Your lack of political balance is betrayed by your insistence that I am talking about generosity to the DUP. I never said that and its your assumption that that is what i mean shows the polarity of politics here and your own narrow view. Which as I have already said sounds like the DUP.

    My point is that great politics leadership is NOT about doing the thing your followers like best but addressing the whole population and their needs as a whole to move forward. It means COMPROMISE, it means moving forward and SETTING the direction.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    As my grandmother used to say “ it’s what you don’t know that hurts you.” Pretending that the encoding is somehow not there does nothing to stem its pervasive influence. It’s not dead people I see but the dead hand of an unthinking ignorance which refuses to face up to unchallengeable historical truths.

    I note you have no answer to the point I’ m making.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    So you are suggesting we retreat out of facts into our imaginations? Do you think this is actually working for Unionism? So you were not talking about the DUP, but when the gist of your posting suggests them, and you specifically mention them, I could perhaps be forgiven for seeing you as defending them!

    As I’ve said above, I’m a one community person. What I’m commenting on, should you actually read my comments instead of simply reacting to what you think they say, is that the polarisation of our politics, and the DUP tactic of “ NO” to everything right up to the wire has created a climate where the sort of moderation you are demanding of others is foolishly unrealistic where the Unionism the majority of Unionists vote for has elected to stand and act on an uncompromising platform of “ Caeser or nothing” and pandering to the very worst aspects of their supporters! You are accusing me of supporting an extreme response to this, while what I’m doing is to point out that for some very real current and historical reasons such a response is far more likely than some out of the blue concession to those whose majority expression politically is a chosen political stance of “ not an inch.”

    What will probably happen not what I am demanding should happen, if the subilte difference is not too complex for you to follow in your own blinkered delirium of insult.

  • whatif1984true

    you got there in the end sean insults work for you instead of reason. bye.

  • Skibo

    I did not say everyone would be happy just as a considerable amount of nationalists are not happy with the present constitutional position but not everyone reverts to violence.

  • SeaanUiNeill

    Blessings wi1984t! I’d have preferred you to have read all my posts and noticed that I was saying “one community” a few days back here on this thread, and over nine years also on Slugger.

    Might have saved you the high blood pressure episode!

  • MainlandUlsterman

    historically incorrect. Irish MPs elected on same basis as others supported staying in the UK, until the 1918 election. Independent 3 years later.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I’ve repeated, as others have, the main unionist concerns. No response to them.

  • El Daddy

    An independent Ireland had not been put up on offer in terms of electoral candidates up until the 1918 election – the only choices were IPP and Unionists. Redmond was the leader of the IPP and was very much of the opinion that Ireland should remain part of the UK, but legislatively independent – but he didn’t hold a monopoly on the party. There were factions who viewed Home Rule as a stepping stone to full independence, much like Collins later on.

    Ireland was in ways a colony not in how it gained eventual enfranchisement for most of its people, but in how it was simply invaded and subjugated. The King of Scotland inherited the English throne, and eventually the countries united politically – Ireland had no such justification. How could wanting to be rid of this be separatism?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    Reinventing the wheel though? The GFA already deals with the totality of relationships.

    No real sign NI is breaking away either, despite what some claim is in the “demographics”. They have barely changed in 20 years.

    I don’t agree that the English concept of Britishness predominates any more than it should for the numbers. The Scottish influence on the development of Britishness as an identity is disproportionately high as it’s there and in Wales and NI that more conscious and detailed reflection on it have tended to happen than in England. But in truth there are almost as many ideas about the nation as there are people in it.

    More to the point though, I’m still left unclear why a specific standalone act is any better than having the same provisions in a bigger piece of legislation that has something for unionists in it. I’m also unclear what funding for unionist cultural projects nationalists are prepared to sign off on, and what safeguards will be in place to avoid the two big concerns of the “gravy train” effect and non-consensual greening of public spaces.

    I do think we need more pluralism in the public square – actually that has been happening anyway – but with SF so closely involved we do have to be careful to make sure any new language rights are not abused for sectarian ends, given their record and values. No one wants to see precious ‘neutral’ spaces in our towns and city centres no longer look and feel neutral. Those spaces are key to a real social pluralism being able to breathe. It may be necessary, along with the promotion of Irish, to protect shared space and guarantee it free of tribal markers. Hard work mapping out designated areas perhaps but it could be done.

  • Sean Danaher

    Mimi
    it baffles me too. I’m a Dublin living in the UK but its clear apart from a few years immediately after the 2008 financial crisis it is clear that Ireland is doing much better than the UK and indeed has done for many years. The crystal ball is cloudy but I can’t see this changing indeed on balance I think

    over the next decade at least the difference will be even greater.

    Given the GFA and demographics if I were a Unionist I would be doing everything in my power to make NI a more friendly and inclusive place for Nationalists. Possibly they are hoping in Boris’s words that Brexit will be a Titanic success and even that the South will see the error of its ways and rejoin the UK?

  • MainlandUlsterman

    You said though that “Ireland never consented to being in that entity in the first place” – but it did, every time it voted in IPP and Unionist MPs, on a platform of staying in the UK (one with Home Rule, one without). That was the case right up to 1918.

    Separatism – Cambridge English Dictionary definition:
    “the belief held by people of a particular race, religion, or other group within a country that they should be independent and have their own government or in some way live apart from other people”
    This was the position of Irish nationalists when Ireland was inside the UK, who wanted this for Ireland. I don’t think it’s a controversial term, just not one used much, because it’s been common for nationalist language to be adopted more widely in relation to what happened. So there was a Rising not an Attempted Coup or Insurrection, there was a War of Independence, not a Separatist Terror Insurgency and so on. They met their match with World War Two though – “The Emergency” was a euphemism too far 🙂

  • El Daddy

    Haha, every time they voted in the IPP was because they were voting *out* the Unionists. IPP supported a platform of remaining in the UK because it was the most feasible at the time – the appetite for mass armed uprising, or “seperatism” just wasn’t there after 1798. There was no electoral option from the Act of Union onwards for a fully independent Republic before SF in the 1918 election – how can you say that people were so pro-Union when there was no major pro-Ireland party to vote for other than the IPP?

    Compare in the 1918 election where the IPP ran side-to-side with people who wanted an independent republic, and look at the seat distribution – IPP are virtually wiped out. The only seats they win are those which had been brokered to them in an agreement with SF so as not to split the nationalist vote – all of which in Ulster, with the exception of Waterford city (which was given to William Redmond, son of IPP leader John – who also ended up being elected as TD later in the Free State).

    I wouldn’t be averse to calling the Rising an attempted coup or insurrection – that’s exactly what it was and a fair description. Not too sure on the Terror part of the “Insurgency” that was the War of Independence however. The euphemisms go even further back with the Famine being simply called the “Great Hunger”, or to more modern times with “The Troubles” … !

    History on the island existed before the Act of Union too,
    Ireland never consented to be part of the UK in the first place. Is this to be forgotten every time that it is said?

    That definition works you gave well from the perspective of someone who called the UK “their country”. Those pesky Irish acting up again in our country that they should be grateful to be a part of. How could it be seperatism if they never wanted to be put into that Act of Union in the first place? Heaney’s poem of the same name says it better than I.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    I wasn’t saying people were massively pro-Union, just that they voted for parties who supported the continuance of Ireland being in the UK, until 1918. The fact people voted for something else in 1918 doesn’t mean you can retrospecitvely say that’s what they wanted all along. Things change.

    And again you say Ireland never consented to be part of the UK. But it did, with every vote for a non-independence party.

  • El Daddy

    You’re missing both my points

    – There were no pro-Indpendence parties for people to vote for the time that the majority of Ireland (Catholics) were allowed to vote and elect their own representatives, and the closest thing was IPP. How can you say voting for the IPP/predecessors was pro-Union when there was no alternative? And again, not everyone was a Redmondite – There were people in the party from the onset that wanted a fully independent Ireland gradually, unlike SF.

    – Regardless of what people voted for after they were allowed vote, the Act of Union was *never* consented for at the time of its enactment. Every Irish person could have voted Unionist from 1870 onwards – the AoU would still have been wrong.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    But you’re being ahistorical there, E.D. – you’re projecting back into the 19th Century a kind of Irish Republican popular feeling that wasn’t there at the time and imagining they really wanted something more radically pro-independence (clean break), back then, than the IPP was offering. In which case, why did people not stand on that platform and get elected?
    We do know, moving ahead a few decades, that some of the Easter 1916 plotters had previously stood for election – they performed dismally. So i think you underestimate the scale and speed of change during WW1 and in particular after 1916 in Irish politics. Arthur Griffith at one stage pre-war was a dual monarchist, for goodness sake. They were very different times. The death cult of 1916 gripped nationalist Ireland in a dramatic way. But it just wouldn’t have had the same popular success 50 years before.

    “Every Irish person could have voted Unionist from 1870 onwards – the AoU would still have been wrong.”
    So it would have been wrong even if it had a majority for it?

  • El Daddy

    They were different times, but my point was there was many (and not everyone in the slightest!) within the IPP who viewed it as a stepping stone. I’m not trying to say that everything is a republic ploy going back to the time of Tone and Home Rule was all a ruse – the dominant view within the IPP was that Home Rule involved remaining part of the UK – but it would be completely ahistorical to think that, like some parties of more latter years, there were not many in the IPP who wanted full independence, but not “yet”. I know this from my local and family history. Why run away from the branding of the IPP and run as an individual when Home Rule could feasibly be a stepping stone? Not everyone who wanted a fully independent Ireland at the time needed to be as radical.
    Your point about Griffith is a good one, and I feel his approach in wanting a dual monarchy was an excellently pragmatic decision for its time – indeed he was the leader of the Irish delegation for the Treaty and was pragmatic enough to go for the best possible deal at the time, to much later consternation. But going back to the dual monarchy thing – the Austro-Hungarian model was the basis of this, and he was its proponent as he felt it was the most feasible as it gave the crown a role, but one which was ceremonial and the people still had independence – both establishments get a compromise. He changes his mind after the Rising as hundreds of people want to join SF, the party he founded, as the British press of all people put the blame of the Rising on SF despite them nothing to do with it! He had always been an exponent of Dual-monarchialism due to it being more likely, but once his party looked like it was veering the other way, he basically said “let’s get independence first and then see about how we want to be run”.

    Another funny one is that Pearse toyed around with the idea of having the son of the Kaiser be the King of an independent Ireland, of Germany won the war, as it would again mean independence for Britain. I agree that things progressed very very quickly after the Rising, but you’re failing to appreciate that beforehand, people didn’t view the IPP as a monolithic entity, and could aspire to full Irish independence without having to be Sinn Féin or join in the Rising. The Rising radicalized the moderates, we all know that, but many of those people were those who had originally wanted *eventual* independence, and had seen the IPP as the vehicle for this, even though the dominant camp in the IPP advocated remaining in the Union.

    And yes, the Act of Union would have been wrong! Irish people did not want it in 1800, when it was enacted. It doesn’t matter a fiddlers if Ireland had all been Unionist 70 years later (which it wasn’t!), it still would not have justified the original, daresay, heinous, Act.

  • MainlandUlsterman

    it’s all relative though. The Act of Union was a response to the huge carnage and waste of the failed 1798 rebellion; without 1798, would it have happened, or happened quite like it did? We’ll never know. Separatists though in my experience tend to write off the wrongs wreaked in the name of separatism as unfortunate collateral damage in the cause of noble struggle for freedom. The Act of Union was far from the biggest disaster of that era, in human terms.

  • El Daddy

    Exactly, the Famine was, largely brought on by the Act of Union.