As someone who agrees that there should be an Irish language act for Northern Ireland, I would like to offer some suggestions to help take the sting out of some of the debates.
There is the Official Languages Act in the republic which has good intentions but the implementation is sometimes useless.
For example, Bus Éireann publishes its annual report in Irish and English but does not provide timetables, ticket machines, or information on its website in Irish.
I am never going to read the annual report of any bus company in any language but I would love to use timetables, ticket machines and websites in Irish.
Bus Éireann can say that they fulfil their statutory obligations towards the Irish language but in reality they don’t offer much to Irish speakers. This is both annoying and a waste of money.
Promoters of the Irish language act in Northern Ireland should be careful not to insist on a blanket Irish-language obligation on public bodies.
The act should focus on practical items such as public signs, transport, education, citizen information, forms etc. that Irish speakers can use and enjoy.
This will probably cost less than a blanket obligation on all bodies.
It would be completely pointless and wasteful to insist that, let’s say, the prison service should publish reports in Irish as these would be of no use to anyone and it will further annoy people who are opposed to an Irish language act.
Moving on, if unionists feel that the Irish language is being used against them as a weapon, why don’t they use the same weapon against their opponents?
The next time that they hear someone from Sinn Féin, etc. demanding that there be an Irish language act, unionists should ask them if they speak Irish fluently?
Do they give interviews and speeches in Irish?
Do they issue press releases in Irish and use Irish on their social media accounts?
This is the test.
Lastly, some unionists feel that Sinn Féin are the vanguard of an Irish language movement.
The truth of the matter is Sinn Féin have failed the Irish language.
The St Andrews’ Agreement promised that the UK government would pass an Irish language act but Sinn Féin were hoodwinked about this.
Admittedly Sinn Féin do use a lot of Irish in their activities but when it comes to the crunch, the Irish language is not their main objective.
If it was Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Michelle O’Neill and many others would all have learned Irish a long time ago.
Seanán Ó Coistín, Trier, Germany