Irish language vote in Belfast is a clue as to what awaits NI

Morning View
Morning View

Not for the first time, Alliance – which holds the balance of power at Belfast City council – has aligned itself with the SDLP and Sinn Fein in a key vote in that chamber.

It is no surprise that nationalist and republican parties rejected a proposal for a language officer, to work across three languages, and instead pushed for a specific Irish language officer.

But it was the Alliance votes that ensured the measure was successful.

The DUP councillor Lee Reynolds is urging ratepayers to make their unhappiness at this development clear in the coming public consultation. That is a sensible request, but it is unlikely now this vote will be thwarted.

It is reported that the Irish language group Foras na Gaeilge is proposing to pay for half the salary, which at least mitigates the cost to ratepayers.

Even so, this is a notable and worrying development, given that Alliance also holds the balance of power at Stormont and is positively enthusiastic about an Irish Language Act.

Michael Long, an Alliance councillor in Belfast, addressed the council in Irish, and explained he was Presbyterian, as had been previous enthusiasts for the language that he named.

While it is true that there are many people across the community who have a genuine affection for Irish, there is no doubt that some republicans sow division where they can and use the language as a triumphalist cultural wedge.

The proportion of people who speak Irish to a high level in Northern Ireland is very small, as a recent survey showed, and the proportion in the Republic who resent it being compulsory there is large, as another survey showed.

It would be ridiculous in those circumstances for Northern Ireland to go down the route of the legally-enforced pushing of a language that has simply failed to win the affection of the island as a whole, whether forced on people or not, and merely because Sinn Fein has decided to make a crisis of the issue.