AN Irish language strategy published by a Sinn Fein minister could disadvantage Protestants from government jobs, TUV leader Jim Allister has said.
The document, produced by Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin’s department, proposes that Irish language speakers should have “the right” to conduct all their business in Irish with the government.
The proposal would cover Stormont departments, local councils, “other state departments”, the legal system and “public sector bodies”.
Ms Ni Chuilin’s own departmental figures show that just two per cent of Protestants have “some knowledge of Irish” as opposed to 39 per cent of Roman Catholics.
Mr Allister said that meant that if the law was implemented it would seriously disadvantage Protestants attempting to gain employment with virtually any public sector body in Northern Ireland.
The St Andrews Agreement in 2006 agreed to the introduction of an Irish Language Act, something which unionists have opposed.
However, Ms Ni Chuilin’s Irish language strategy appears to be an attempt to significantly enhance the position of the language through her department in the absence of fresh legislation.
The strategy was released on July 11, something Mr Allister said was suspect. He said that “if a government department was genuinely interested in hearing the views of the public, and particularly unionists, they would not launch a consultation on July 11”.
Mr Allister said he was amazed that the document had been released at all because it has implications for every Executive department and therefore should have required the support of a majority in the Executive.
The TUV leader has written to First Minister Peter Robinson asking whether the strategy was approved by the Executive.
The document also sets out plans for substantial changes to Irish medium schools, making it easier to get government funding for an Irish-only school even if there is no need for one because there are English-speaking schools in the area.
Mr Allister said that his party was “particularly concerned about the intended ramifications for the Northern Ireland Civil Service should the strategy be implemented”.
He added that the massive imbalance between Protestants and Catholics when it comes to knowledge of the Irish language means that “were this suggestion to be implemented it would seriously disadvantage one section of the community as they would be unable to conduct business through Irish with members of the public and therefore Protestants would be disadvantaged when it came to applying for posts within the civil service”.
Mr Allister also objected to the strategy’s proposal to promote Irish in Washington, Brussels and other foreign offices run by Stormont.
He said that it was an attempt to “rob Northern Ireland of any vestige of Britishness on the international stage and would serve no useful purpose as English is the world’s lingua franca”.
The Office of the First Minister wand Deputy First Minister had not yet responded.
The Equality Commission said that it was studying Mr Allister’s complaint about the strategy but said that anyone complaining that a public authority had not kept to its equality scheme had to first complain to the authority itself.