Ulster Unionist member of Newry and Mourne District Council, Danny Kennedy MLA, has said that attempts to impose bi-lingualism on the new council for Newry and Mourne and Down District would "do little to benefit community relations".An unfortunate and even inaccurate starting sentence I’ve got to say; bilingualism is only the ability to speak and write two languages at the level of mother-tongue, it is a state which can’t be “imposed” on anyone as stressed-out foreign language teachers throughout the UK would no doubt confirm.
"The use of the Irish language by Newry and Mourne District Council to date has been controversial and has not taken account of cross-community needs," the Ulster Unionist Party deputy leader said.
"It has been used, in my view, as a political tool and rammed down the throats of the entire population.
So more accurate an argument to say that the Irish language is being used as a political tool, but even then the lack of any coherent Conservative and Unionist policy towards its use and “imposition” has been proven once again by this press-release.
Does the party wish to see the promotion of the Irish language, a simple “yes” or “no”?
If “no”, why not? Is it because there are tangible disadvantages suffered by “unionists, Protestants and non-users of the language” (I would have only used the latter description to be honest, you don’t suffer disadvantage from a language due to your religion per se, it’s the fact that you can’t speak it which may be the problem) presently in Newry and Mourne DC? A genuinely open question that can only be adequately answered with independent objective research and not Danny Kennedy's unsubstantiated speculation- has housing segregation increased, for example, since the adoption of dual language street names, are non-Irish speakers put off from applying for council jobs because of dual language application forms? Those two factors can be easily measured and if there is a problem (and the will is really there to further the cause of the language amongst its advocates), then dealt with.
Danny Kennedy does also mention economic objections in passing- has any survey been done in Newry and Mourne regarding costs of translation, signage painting etc? What revenue has accrued to the council area because of the dual-language policy? The first factor is easier to measure obviously, but it shouldn't be beyond the capabilities of a council to deliver some kind of cost/benefits analysis of the present policy (eg has tourism risen or fallen since the inclusion of dual-signage and from what areas in particular?).
But if these concerns do actually exist and were dealt with adequately, would that affect the attitude towards the promotion of the Irish language?
If so, say it and then the assumption won’t be automatically taken that the present opposition is based purely on communal grounds.
If not, then what is the justification for the negative attitude towards something which could, given the will (that word again) on all sides, be a truly shared cultural treasure?
And if not, how exactly does the nature of that opposition differ from that expressed at regular intervals by the DUP and TUV?
Either way a policy needs to be drawn up expressing the party's present point of view, at the moment every pronouncement on the subject seems to be too off-the-cuff, too ad-hoc and too unthinkingly defensive.
OK, an answer to the question posed in the post’s title:
The Ulster Unionist Party is committed to working for a stable and peaceful Northern Ireland within the Union, building a competitive and growing economy, securing a fair and just society, and ensuring the sustainability of our environment.
On the basis of these values the UUP respects cultural diversity as a key foundation for a stable, peaceful, pluralist society. Northern Ireland's unique history within the United Kingdom and the British Isles has given to our society a rich diversity of cultural traditions - British, Northern Irish, Anglo-Irish, Irish, Ulster Scots, and (in recent decades) a growing and welcome range of ethnic minority traditions. A framework that fosters respect for this diversity contributes to community cohesion and good community relations.
The 1998 Agreement provided principles and architecture which facilitated a growing respect for our society's cultural diversity.
However the UUP are against the proposed Irish Language Act for a number of reasons:
To claim that an Irish Language Act would have "no adverse impacts" on those who do not speak Irish is self-evidently contradicted by experience in the Republic of Ireland - the very model invoked by the St Andrews Act and the consultation paper
2. Impact on community relations
To further claim that an Irish Language Act would "have only positive impacts" on community relations sits uneasily beside the paper's earlier statement that "there is a range of political sensitivities that need to be fully considered in bringing forward proposals for Irish language legislation in Northern Ireland" - and demonstrates a willful ignorance of the views of a wide range of political and community stakeholders in Northern Ireland.
However, the fact that the consultation paper cannot "estimate with any degree of precision the costs of introducing" the legislation is disturbing. For any Government Department to propose that legislators pass legislation with no indication of the cost to the taxpayer is a neglect of government's duty to promote fiscal responsibility and accountability.
Doubts/concerns are also held about:
1.Comparisons with the Welsh Language Act 1993
2.The proposal that there should be "a duty on public authorities to prepare a language scheme" (statutory duty for facilitating the use of Irish in legal proceedings, or providing statutory forms in Irish),
3.The suggested oversight body – “an Irish Language Commissioner” – encapsulates the manner in which these proposals undermine and destabilise the linguistic and cultural arrangements of the 1998 Agreement.