Much of the discussion over the “deal” to be made between the DUP and Sinn Fein has focussed on the proposed Irish Language Act.
No details have been released on what is included in this proposed Act and we are restricted in our understanding to reflecting on past demands and their implications.
Reference has been made to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005 as a starting point given Scotland’s place within the United Kingdom. So bearing in mind that the 2011 Census identified that 1.7% of the Scottish population have “some Gaelic Language skills” what does the implementation of the Scottish Act entail.
The Introductory Text of the Act states that its purpose is “to establish a body having functions exercisable with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language”. This is delivered through a national Gaelic Language Plan and a requirement for public bodies to likewise prepare such plans.
What does this mean in practical terms? NHS Highland covers the Highland and Islands of Scotland and has a population where 8% identified themselves as being able to speak Gaelic in 2011. The NHS Highland Gaelic Language Plan 2012 – 2017 detailed a number of actions to be taken including but not exclusively:
“implement design guidance to reflect the equal status of English and Gaelic”
“Employees willing to learn Gaelic will be encouraged to do so and Gaelic speakers encouraged to use the language appropriately”
“Public facing employees will be encouraged to take up opportunities to learn Gaelic at least to basic level (able to conduct initial conversation in Gaelic) and encouraged to train to fluency and/or a higher level of literacy.”
“All person specifications to be assessed for Gaelic need - Essential or Desirable, as they are being produced or renewed.”
So how did NHS Highland perform between 2012-2017, the latest plan covering 2017-2022 states in relation to the earlier version:
“It is clear that the plan was not delivered as intended. While some actions have been carried out, they have been not all been carried out or carried out completely and therefore the impact has been minimal.”
The latest plan includes further actions such as clear numbers of staff to receive language training and its use. Recruitment of Gaelic speakers has been enhanced so that in future “Recruitment Policy recognises Gaelic as an essential or desirable skill in key geographical areas where 20% or more speak Gaelic.”
The Scottish Ambulance Service has likewise identified within its Gaelic Language Plan that in future “Personal specifications identify Gaelic skills as essential or desirable”.
This level of activity in the drive to make Scotland a bilingual society occurs across all Health bodies, all education bodies, police, Government departments and local government.
And remember that Scotland is cited as having a mild act. A system of language promotion designed to take a language from a population skill level of 1.7% to full equality.
Imagine such a system in Northern Ireland, imagine such a system being operated by Sinn Fein.
Stephen Nicholl, Ulster Unionist councillor, Antrim