Linda Ervine: Alliance proposals on Irish will help stop the political abuse of the language

Linda Ervine outside the Skainos centre in East Belfast where she works on helping to develop the Irish Language in the area. Picture by Matt Mackey/

I was encouraged by the Alliance Party proposals for Irish Language legislation presented to the talks process and consider them a useful step towards achieving legislative provision for a range of linguistic and cultural matters.

Arlene Foster is right when she says the Irish language is no threat to the Union or unionists, and that whatever is taken forward must be capable of delivering consensus.

Alliance MLA Paula Bradshaw (centre) with politicians including Gerry Adams TD of Sinn Fein at an event at the MAC in Belfast in August to demand a standalone Irish language act. Picture: Philip Magowan / PressEye

My own work shows that the Irish language can draw cross-community interest - after all, it is all around us in place and family names, it influences our daily vocabulary and phraseology, and it is part of our common ancestral heritage.

There is nothing for anyone to fear from appropriate legislation designed to provide a foundation upon which the Irish language can be developed on a genuinely cross-community basis.

Alliance Party proposals emerging from the talks offer an opportunity to deliver that type of foundation. They include comprehensive but proportionate Irish language legislation, rightly putting education and promotion ahead of cost and compulsion.

Notably, all the concerns frequently raised by Unionist politicians have been addressed in the proposals; for example, every child in the education system will have the right to learn Irish, but equally importantly none will be compelled to do so.

Linda Ervine in an Irish language class. Picture by Brian Thompson /

After all, for those who support growing the language, there is nothing to be gained from introducing compulsory signage or discriminatory employment practices which serve to drive people away from it, but there is everything to be gained from enabling and encouraging the use and visibility of the language in education and community life.

The DUP and Sinn Fein have recognised that past approaches have so far failed to deliver on this important matter and I would encourage serious consideration of these new proposals.

They appear to me to be a fair and reasonable attempt to meet past obligations on Irish language legislation (and other aspects of culture) while delivering an opportunity for cross-community backing from which the language would benefit hugely. 

Unionists have nothing to fear and indeed much to gain from this, as it provides a foundation to stop the abuse of the language for political purposes and instead hand it over to those across the community who truly cherish it.

It is now up to us all to grasp the opportunities this new approach clearly offers.

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