Irish must not be forced, by law, on the community at large

Morning View

Morning View

There is no question that unionist leaders, most obviously Arlene Foster, have been put under almost intolerable pressure in recent weeks.

The DUP leader has been assailed for things such as her crocodiles comment while Michelle O’Neill got little scrutiny for storming out of a meeting with James Brokenshire, accusing the secretary of state of “waffle”.

Now there is huge pressure on the DUP to agree an Irish Language Act. If it is not forthcoming, republicans will tour these islands and America claiming discrimination.

We have been told how, for example, a language act has worked well in Wales. But the situation is Wales is not comparable. It did not have a violent nationalist movement that speaks of respect while sowing division. If it had not been for the politicisation of Gaelic, it might still have been a flourishing tradition in pockets of Protestant Ulster.

An Irish Language Act must not be allowed to open the door to a future in which public sector employment is in any way related to Irish qualifications, in which schools and communities that have no interest in learning Irish are expected to provide for a demand that does not exist, in which all road signs are bi-lingual, and in which there are vast, wasteful exercises in translation. In other words to irrevocably change the nature of Northern Ireland, as some republicans want.

A Culture Act might be one way to go forward, assuming that after careful scrutiny it is crystal clear that it will not facilitate the same agenda, nor open a route to it in the future.

We report today that 1% of people in Northern Ireland can handle Irish at a complicated level. Yet 42% of voters last month voted for nationalist parties. Irish has failed to gain significant traction even in that community which is keen on it (as it has every right to be).

The language deserves protection and cross community respect. It is already lavishly funded. But its failure to make the inroads that some supporters might want it to make is no excuse for it to be forced, by law, on the community at large.