Wednesday, September 2, 2009

The Irish Language- is there a Conservative & Unionist Policy?

From the UUP site:
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".

"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.
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.

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.

Update 28-09-09

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.

1998 Arrangements

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:

1.Equality considerations

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.

3. Cost

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.


Sharon Owens said...

I was once enrolled in an Irish medium school in Dublin for one year - for reasons best known to my father - I couldn't take to the language at all, and went into a one-year sulk. I stopped speaking at all, just refused to speak to anyone, and eventually had to be removed and returned to mainstream education.

I have nothing against the Irish language. It is simply very hard to learn if you do not have an ear for languages.

I despair of our politicians - saner people have been locked up - it's criminal the way they go on about language when I know people who have been refused twenty minutes of home help because there isn't enough money in the budget.

PS. To this day whenever I hear Irish spoken I feel my stomach contracting with fear...

Anonymous said...

In san tir seo fado, fado, bhi na conini ag rith as nos na gaoithe.


O'Neill said...


I'm actually sorry to hear about your experience although I think it's symptomatic of a more general problem about how we should teach second, non-mother tongue languages to children.

My own opinion is that we should start much, much earlier than we do at the minute and that it should be regarded, at least for the few years in the same way as art or music, rather than mathmatics or the sciences. Vocabulary or grammar knowledge is less important than confidence, speaking practise and making the darn thing fun when teaching infants.

Regarding the "ear for languages", erm...nonsense! Every baby learns at least one language at a conversational level starting from his first day on the planet- so (or almost!) every child has an "ear", it's the teaching system's fault for not developing best practice (ie following mum!).

I think Urban Underclass was saying much the same thing;)

Gael gan Náire said...


Interesting post.

I have to say one thing, prompted by the remark above, forgive me but the thought that my kids words would frightened anyone or make them feel sick frightens me.

In all my days, north or south I have only ever come across, in everday life, open aggression to the speaking of Irish.

That was from a chippie in Belfast, from a young woman who approached my mate and said 'I hate the Irish language and I look forward to its death'.

My friend, whose parents were dead was quite shocked, but said with great dignity to the young woman, you will be celebrating the death of everyone in my family. I think that something stirred.

Every other time the only problem you have is from 'fans' and this gets rather embarrasing, as we would not be conscience of language.

Alas, I fear Mr Kennedy would not be impressed by a favourable economic arguement, but one could argue that as the many of the finest poets in the Gaelic language were from 'Newry and Mourne' that tourism on that subject may be underdeveloped.

Bu the thing is this, on the 'debate', I don't listen to nor care about the objections to people like myself from people who are made ill by my very name, nor simply knee-jerk any oul rubbish in my direction, without thought.

I was once heavily involved in 'outreach', trying to give some information about the Gaels and the Gaelic language to unionists.

But I had a eureka moment, no I said. I have never been 'disgusted' by unionists, called them leprechauns, threatened them with jail etc. etc.

No. I feel that it is Unionism with should do the outreach to me.

Gael gan Náire said...

"In all my days, north or south I have only ever come across, in everday life, open aggression to the speaking of Irish. "

Sorry, forgot to write ONCE.

Anonymous said...

A Cairde,

As the provos always start with a , cupla focal, I am far from a provo. To nail my colours to the mast, I'm a Worker's Party supporter.

The Irish language is part of our shared culture, it will never die as long Ireland hold Fenian graves.

That is my honest opinion,


Sharon Owens said...

Gosh lads,

I've touched a nerve here!!!

I think I associate Irish with the upheaval of moving house, leaving friends behind, and the Troubles etc. Nowt personal.

Maybe I lived in Yorkshire in a previous life, I can understand that accent better than Irish...


Anonymous said...


Never mind, I think it's good to the the Irish Language being discussed on a forum such as this,


O'Neill said...

was once heavily involved in 'outreach', trying to give some information about the Gaels and the Gaelic language to unionists.

But I had a eureka moment, no I said. I have never been 'disgusted' by unionists, called them leprechauns, threatened them with jail etc. etc.

No. I feel that it is Unionism with should do the outreach to me.


You'll probably not get to read this being over a week late, but anyway; I think you're falling into the old trap here. As an Irish langauge advocate it's not your job to worry about labels such as "Unionists" or nationalists", there are simply only speakers and non-speakers of the language. I don't know what your target is, consolidation or actually increasing the numbers learning the language.

If it's the former, then I can see the logic (although not necessarily agree with it) behind an Irish Language act. If it's the former then perhaps emphasising the communal/cultural is the way to go. The danger then is that obviously the language in a society in NI remains stuck within the metaphorical ghetto.

If the latter, then,I think, there has to be an acceptance that what other potential speakers of the language get from it will be different from you- eg not an expression of your gaelic identity and history(and I that's only an educated guess, correct me if I'm wrong). My old school (a state grammar) does teach it now as an optional and I can guarantee almost ceratinly that the vast majority of kids learning it there are not doing it as a political or cultural statement.

So yes, the UUP should develop a more coherent policy towards the language, provide objective evidence for any problems they have with its promotion, but in the end, I suspect you'll be wasting your time in trying to convert the present generation of Unionist politicians over. If I were you what would be more worrying is the fact that not one state primary school has taken up the choice of gaelic lessons offered to them by Ruane last year.
Why? Is it all down to prejudice on the part of the teaching staff and parents?

Gael gan Náire said...


Thanks for reply. 76 schools took up Irish under the scheme.

For me that is a great result, regardless of their religon.

Some campaigners have fallen into the trap of somehow viewing a protestant learner / speaker as more equal than a nationalist. I refute that utterly as do the leading protestant activitists in the North.

Sure, it is a pity that not one state primary school took up the offer, I do not believe that that can simply be put down to prejudice.

To clarify one of your points, I think that Irish like all languages has cultural value, but for me, a cultural language is essentially a dead one.

I would prefer to have a handful of venacular speakers rather than a thousand cultural enthusiats. That is not to knock those people, they do their thing.

A cultural language is one which is only legimate in certain very limited aspects of life. As Ian Malcolm says, to dictate where, when and for which subjects a language is used is ultimately censorship.

Everyone should read his book.

PS, your blog always makes my computer crash.

Anonymous said...

Gael Gan Naire,

On the computer crashing, have you tried a different web browser? This site uses a lot of memory and some browsers are less memory hungry than others. I find Safiri (an Apple browser) more efficient than Firefox on my Mac, I wouldn't dream of using the Internet Explorer, it's rubbish IMHO.

P.S, I think it's up to Irish Language enthusiasts to revive the language as the Welsh language was. I spend 13 years learning it in school and can converse better in German, which I never learned formally. (Lived in Germany a few years).


Anonymous said...

sharon owens,

I don't doubt how you feel, but if it were me I think I would feel sick when I heard my cruel father speak, not when I heard a language.

Do you think there's some blame-shifting going on in your psyche?

padstermac said...

GGN - just to give u a bit of hope... i'm an enthusiastic gaeilgoir here in sao paulo (lembra o til cara!) and i will be - sem sombra de duvida.........

Darren J. Prior said...

"In all my days, north or south I have only ever come across, in everday life, open aggression to the speaking of Irish."

The vast bulk of middle class people in Dublin like it. We obviously don't mix in similar circles.

Gael gan Náire said...


I did of course correct myself to "only once".

That is to say I have only come accross open aggresion once myself, outwith the security forces in the north of course.

The Gombeen Man said...

O'Neill, I'm a working class Dubliner, and I can can affirm the suspicion that Gaelic will become a snowballing industry up there if you let it.

That's precisely what happened down here in our so-called republic, with Gaelic speakers having advantages in employment and education (extra points for doing the Leaving Cert "as Gaeilge", for example), with associated costs in tranlating documents into Gaelic that nobody reads, and 1.4 billion spent on carrying the Gaeltacht.

But it all creates jobs for those who chose to become Gaelic speakers. That's why they are so active in internet forums - they feel their cosy little junket is being threatened.

What they fail to grasp is it's not the langauge, as such, that causes resentment - it's the way it is "promoted".

Dublin City Council is even banning English language placenames for future housing developments.

The Gaeliban, I call them.