Ulster Scots is not enough to offset an Irish Language Act

Morning View
Morning View

For months there has been talk from some unionists about supporting Ulster Scots alongside Irish.

The motive is not an unreasonable one: that if Gaelic gets funding, then must Ulster Scots too.

The historic links between Scotland and Ulster are one of the richest parts Northern Ireland’s heritage (particularly, but by no means exclusively, among Protestants). Spoken Ulster Scots is a key part of that heritage and one that deserves protection. But demand to learn it is limited.

There is a risk that the republican bid to use the Irish language as a divisive wedge, and make Northern Ireland harder to distinguish from the Republic, will be facilitated in return for pledges on behalf of Ulster Scots. Such a deal might seem balanced, but given the relative demand for Irish and Ulster Scots it would, in its effect, be lopsided in favour of Gaelic.

Unionists cherish NI’s place in the UK, which is flourishing in part because of the dynamic English language. Unionists typically want their children, if learning languages, to speak French and Spanish or other major international tongues.

That many people, mostly (but certainly not entirely) from the nationalist tradition, want to learn Irish adds to our wonderful diversity. But it does not mean it needs further protection.

The DUP has been put in an invidious position, with pressure from all sides to concede to a host of republican demands. Protests are held to imply that Irish suffers state discrimination. In truth it is well supported, despite the fact that few people speak it to an advanced level – far fewer than in Wales.

Some advocates of an Irish Language Act want to alter signage and names across NI and link Irish to public sector jobs, perhaps obliquely at first via audits. People talk about watering down such an act but that concedes the necessity of new laws.

This should not suddenly be agreed because Sinn Fein, which brought down Stormont, is toying with its return. We understand that there is deep unease in the DUP about an act, but its politicians are not speaking out (see link below).

If those concerns are genuine, then they must be expressed so that potentially far-reaching legislation gets the debate it needs.

DUP councillors struck dumb on prospect of Irish Language Act