Watching the performance of Jim Shannon, the DUP MP for Strangford, in Westminster yesterday, a day of high drama otherwise in British politics, I was reminded that farce is a close relation to such dramatic intrigue.
When Jim Shannon claims under parliamentary privilege that he’s for the idea of the Irish language but, it seems, apparently against any actual manifestation of An Ghaeilge in his sight lines or in those of his constituents, does he not realise, for instance, that the Irish Language Act proposed by Sinn Féin back in February actually didn’t contain a provision for bilingual signage at all?
Or does he know full well that it didn’t but he and his bellicose party colleagues rejected it anyhow but he nonetheless will spin a yarn to these poor unknowing parliamentarians about how the British culture is being oppressed in Northern Ireland with the threat of an Irish Language Act.
He also spoke about how his concern that majority of parents and children would have the Irish language imposed upon them in schools, ‘against their will’, when, again, nothing of the sort has been advocated by any party, not Sinn Féin, not Conradh na Gaeilge, not the Alliance Party.
It’s touching, his concern for the majority in Northern Ireland, given he’s an elected representative of a party which is conspiring with the Tory Party to deprive the majority of voters in Northern Ireland of our membership of the European Union, very much against our will. But let’s leave that aside for the moment.
This is the second week in July and no doubt that has something to do with Jim Shannon’s statement, misleading and all as it is, in Westminster. It’s all about playing to the gallery at home in Northern Ireland where the Orange Order, champions of the ‘British’ culture as they claim to be, is preparing to celebrate their big day this week with parades and calls to oppose an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland.
I wonder do the Orange Order truly believe that Northern Ireland is part of British culture? After all in other parts of Britain, Scotland and Wales for example, there is legislation to protect and promote Gaidhlig and Welsh, but here in Northern Ireland, it’s not possible to promote and protect in a similar way the Irish language without diluting British culture. That’s what the Orange Order believes if their resolution to be moved and passed on ‘the Glorious Twelfth’ is to be taken at face value. Here’s a question: has a resolution moved at ‘the Twelfth field’ ever been voted down?
In his speech on the floor of the House of Commons on Monday, Jim Shannon also expressed concern that the Irish Language would also be imposed on the courts. Let me assure him that he has no need for concern on that score as the last penal law still abides in Northern Ireland, the Administration of Justice Act 1737 still forbids the use of Irish in the courts of Northern Ireland.
He claims that the expenditure of £160m on the Irish language backs up his assertion that he is for ‘the idea of the Irish language’. Yet that figure includes approximately £80m for the education of children (through the medium of Irish, but these children would have to be educated anyhow) and £30m for capital funding for Irish language provision, which would also have to be spent. Also the remaining funds, much of it comes from the Republic of Ireland Government as they fund Foras na Gaeilge 75% against 25% from the Northern Ireland purse.
Here’s a message for Jim and his fellow travellers – it’s no longer sufficient to be ‘for’ the idea of the Irish language but to be against any possible manifestation. If he wants to carry on misleading a chamber of mostly bored parliamentarians in Westminster but this politics is not going to transform the situation in Northern Ireland to such an extent that a return to devolution will be possible. It won’t be direct rule either, not in the medium to long term. Jim Shannon and his supporters are talking themselves out of the precious union.