It’s becoming increasingly clear that unionist political parties and politicians have set their opposition to an Irish Language Act and, by extension, any form of an Irish identity within ‘British’ NI as a priority ‘red line’ ahead of returning to powersharing or, even, at the most fundamental level aspiring to an equal Union between NI and the rest of the UK.
The rhetoric today from Arlene Foster in which she set out what she would not countenance in response to goading by other unionist politicians, most of whom are on the fringes, should be enough to set alarm bells ringing.
Nobody was ever pushing compulsory Irish in schools – would the pupils of Methody and Inst and other such venerable institutions be able to deal with the Modh Coinniollach after all?
Nobody ever wanted quotas of Irish speakers in the civil service – but there would have to be a small number of people employed over time to make the services which the public might demand in Irish available to the public.
However, the notion that the Irish language could not feature on signposts in NI like Gaidhlig features on signposts in Scotland or Welsh in Wales is a non-runner.
While no-one envisages bilingual signs being erected on the Shankill Road in Belfast in the initial stages, or even at the bottom of David McNarry’s lane, the Irish language will not be invisible in NI, it will not be the official language which can’t be seen, heard, spoken, written or appear on signposts.
What is being sought here is not supremacy over any language or even equality with English in NI but equality with Scots Gaidhlig in Scotland and Welsh in Wales, the three main indigenous languages in the UK, albeit they’re spoken by minorities.
To present it as some form of attempt to grab supremacy is deceitful and dishonest.
Ulster Scots will not be disadvantaged by Gaeilge getting its own protective legislation. It will get its own protective legislation which will cater to its specific needs and priorities.
Why does Irish need protective legislation – well it should be clear because voluntary codes don’t work.
The UK Government signed up to Part 3 of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages wrt Irish – and Part 2 in relation to Ulster Scots – but for the past three reporting cycles has failed to issue a report detailing its implementation of the commitments it entered into wrt Irish and Ulster Scots under that charter.
This time the excuse was there was no Executive to agree a report. The previous two times the excuse was the Executive that was in place would not agree the terms of the report.
Proposals which have been costed have been made by Conradh na Gaeilge on an Irish Language Act. They are available to the public and be read. Implementing their proposals would cost £19m over five years.
The postage bill at Stormont is higher, I venture to guess. If people are genuinely concerned over costs, they should set the maximum limit for spending on implementing ILA provisions at £19m or an agreed figure.
Costs aren’t really the issue are they, neither is this about Irish being ‘divisive’ as Doug Beattie argues.
If Doug Beattie wants to give out about divisiveness, he ought to look at Brexit or displays of force by the British Army or a host of other issues. Irish is being taught to record numbers of learners across Northern Ireland.
It’s being taught to all comers and is available to anybody through apps like Duolingo – currently Irish has 4m learners on that app. It’s also treating the electorate rather shabbily to be talking about an ILA being a stepping stone to a United Ireland.
It would actually strengthen the Union by the very fact of comforting those in the nationalist community for whom identity is important that the North is not still a cold house for the Irish.
I believe that so strongly that I’ve said to Sinn Féin representatives that it is they who should be arguing against an Irish Language Act and the Unionists proposing it.
My firm prediction is that there will be no deal without Acht na Gaeilge in some shape or form and that this will include among other things bilingual signage, public services through Irish for Irish speakers and other essential measures on a par with those protections available to Gaidhlig speakers in Scotland and Welsh speakers in Wales.