Irish language campaigner Linda Ervine has said that she supports the idea of an Irish language act, adding that the incident in which Gregory Campbell mocked the language was a turning point for her.
Mrs Ervine – the wife of ex-PUP leader Brian – has been operating Irish language classes for several years at the Methodist-run Skainos Centre in inner-east Belfast, in an extremely loyalist neighbourhood bedecked with paramilitary murals and flags.
“I’m in favour of an act, and I have been in favour of an act.
“When I first got involved with the language sort of six or six years ago, I didn’t understand anything about an act, so I wouldn’t have been particularly positive about an act.
“I’d no understanding of language planning, minority languages, rights of speakers, all these sorts of things to do with an act. I didn’t know there was an act in Scotland or an Act in Wales [to promote Scottish gaelic and Welsh, respectively].”
When speaking to Scottish and Welsh language activists, she said she gradually warmed to the notion of an act for Northern Ireland, too, adding: “I suppose the thing that pushed me over the line as far as an act is concerned was then the sort of ‘curry-my-yoghurt thing’, when I saw the language very much being treated with disrespect.”
This is a reference to comments made by DUP MP Mr Campbell in the Assembly in late 2014, when he mockingly mispronounced the Irish words for ‘thank you’ – ‘go raibh maith agat’.
Whilst the act in Wales has quite “compulsory” elements to it, she said Northern Ireland could do with something akin to the Scottish act.
“I talks about having language rights – but within reason. We’re not talking about people getting taken to court or anything.”
She does not have a problem with Irish being spoken in court in Northern Ireland, saying that it is “seldom” put to use in the Republic of Ireland.
She questioned whether the idea of an Irish language quota in the civil service would be possible under equality laws.
And on the issue of bi-lingual road signs, she said it needs a “sensitive” approach.
As to the idea that Sinn Fein has essentially hijacked the cause of the Irish language, she said: “Ok, fair enough. Well then – claim it back.
“The language belongs to anybody who chooses to speak it.”