I cannot accept that unionists have no reason for concern over Irish language act

A letter from Dr William Beattie Smith:

Sunday, 20th June 2021, 11:28 pm
Updated Sunday, 20th June 2021, 11:33 pm
Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor

Seanán O Coistin’s letter (‘In reality the Republic does business in English, not Irish,’ June 15, see link below) usefully reminds us that most people in the Republic lead their lives in English.

It’s fortunate for them that they do, because they would never have prospered otherwise. The history of the Irish language there illustrates the folly of trying to impose a “first national language” by law on a population who have better things to do with their time.

Seanán is right to say that in my original letter (June 11, see link below) I was referring to the Irish state as an employer, but I cannot accept that unionists have no reason for concern. Some years ago I requested an application pack for a County Manager post in the Republic.

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I was shocked to discover that extra points (10% as I recall) were available for candidates who could demonstrate fluency in Irish. Since most competitions at this level are close-run, it seemed clear to me that there was no point in my applying.

I did however raise the matter with the responsible minister, who passed it to the Office of the Taoiseach (Bertie Ahern) for reply. I indicated that in Northern Ireland this practice would be in breach of our equality legislation, since it would indirectly discriminate against members of the Protestant Unionist community.

Mr Ahern’s reply did not address the equality issue, but asserted that this practice was justified on the ground that Irish was “the first national language”. I did not press the point, but you can see the danger.

Once enough Irish language activists start demanding the right to conduct their business with government agencies in Irish, Sinn Féin ministers will respond by arguing that candidates who are fluent in Irish should have preferential treatment in applying for public sector posts and promotions – as in the Republic.

The proposed language legislation serves no practical purpose but risks being exploited to advantage Irish speakers in public sector jobs.

Dr William Beattie Smith Belfast BT15

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