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:
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.