In his recent address to the McGill Summer School in Donegal, the DUP’s Edwin Poots spoke openly and at times positively about the Irish language, saying “anyone who speaks and loves the Irish language is as much a part of Northern Ireland life as a collaret-wearing Orangeman”.
He continued, however, to say that his party “opposes the introduction of Irish-language legislation that is more about developing a sense of national identity than it is about supporting the language itself,” and suggested that the language is used as a “weapon in a cultural war”.
Whilst Mr Poots’ language is very much different from previous comments made by his party regarding Irish, the idea that there is a “cultural war” taking place is incorrect and further polarises communities which may, with the correct language and approach used, be open to debate on the Irish language.
Conradh na Gaeilge has been to the fore in the campaign for an act, has produced a document which contains proposals which would recognise, protect and promote the use of Irish in everyday life, but which would at no point pose any threat to any other cultures.
An Irish language act would put an end to prejudiced and whimsical decision making regarding the language and it would provide a platform for the language to thrive and become part of a continued, and much needed, cultural revival.
I am personally unaware of any genuine member of the Irish language community who is interested in cultural warfare, or who would make any attempt to denigrate or supress other cultures, in fact the opposite is generally the case.
None of what Conradh na Gaeilge has put forward contains any trappings of warfare, cultural or otherwise, and this is the view held by the Irish language community.
In its meeting with Conradh na Gaeilge, the DUP delegation, and Mr Poots himself agreed that the costs of the proposals were in fact ‘reasonable’, and the party leader accepted that there would be ‘legislative provision’ for the Irish language.
‘In this part of the world, the Irish language is everything it ought to be. It isn’t threatening. It isn’t politicised’, stated Mr Poots in Donegal.
In the part of the world in question, there are Irish language road signs, and there is an Irish-language commissioner, all of which is based on Irish language legislation, which has been in place for decades.
How can road signage which contains the original, correct version of a place-name, be considered unacceptable?
How can the appointment of an independent, objective commissioner, to ensure the provisions in a publicly funded act are implemented, be such an issue, when proper governance and financial scrutiny is central to the re-establishment of an Assembly?
None of the proposals put forward by Conradh na Gaeilge will impact negatively on other cultures, indeed we are convinced that they would enhance them.
If the DUP genuinely believes that “anyone who speaks and loves the Irish language is as much a part of Northern Ireland life as a collaret-wearing Orangeman,” it should recognise and accept that the Irish language should be officially recognised through the means of a standalone act, as recommended by the United Nations, the Council of Europe, the Dáil, and a majority of our own elected MLAs.
Ní féidir an dubh a chur ina gheal, ach seal.
Dr Niall Comer, Uachtarán Chonradh na Gaeilge, 199 Bóthar na bhFál, BT12