Why an Irish language act is not something we can afford

Sandra Chapman
Sandra Chapman

Our right to protest, they say, is God-given.

I came up in an age when people went to church – I was a regular goer until I was 18 – but as the 60s progressed people took to protesting.

Protesting for an Irish Language act

Protesting for an Irish Language act

There wasn’t much in the Bible to say people shouldn’t protest, so shouting off in public became the new religion as congregations declined.

There was a lot to protest about then – the Vietnam war was a favourite – and before we knew it all manner of perceived injustices brought people on to the streets. Workers raged over low wages, women wanted equality with men in the workplace and across the pond a youthful American president was standing up for the rights of black people. These were all worthy causes which eventually brought about massive changes in society, changes which are still ongoing.

Our baby boomer generation had a lot to lose if we couldn’t bring about the changes we demanded. Injustices were real then, society was terribly unequal and politicians had to bow to our demands or be kicked out of their comfy seats in parliament. Firebrand types soon found that being a professional protester was a lucrative way to earn a living.

Today’s protests are still political; here they’re about the right to march in certain places, education cuts, fears for the NHS, even animal rights. Now we have a minority demanding the right to a standalone Irish language act led by Sinn Fein and other nationalist parties who seemed to care little about the cost of such a venture given how strapped for cash we are with massive cuts in education and health budgets coming up. The Alliance party wants us to think it doesn’t want the same as the other nationalist parties about such an Act muttering something about a ``scheme-based approach’’ to Irish language, rather than a rights-based one as put forward by the other parties. In the News Letter this week its MLA Paula Bradshaw is reported as saying: ``This would mean Irish would be implemented where it is needed.’’ She admits her party’s proposals haven’t been costed yet and they are `trying to be constructive’. That’s an amazing admission and smacks of the Party wanting to get on the bandwagon of a protest they don’t fully understand.

In the Sixties people protested for noble causes which would ultimately improve living standards and quality of life. At the moment an Irish language act is a luxury this country cannot afford while people are waiting months, even years, for vital operations and health care and schools are having to beg parents to provide funds for teaching aids. Any political party pursuing a cause which many believe will not advance this country one iota and expecting ordinary people to pay for it, is not living in the real world.

I have family living in a part of Canada where French is the dominant language. The history of how this all happened is just that, history. Yet I know there are English speaking parents who despair that their children have to learn to do mathematics in French and acknowledge the public holidays of France. In the rest of Canada their job prospects are limited.

These children hardly know what their native national flag represents and their parents certainly can’t help with their maths or French homework. Canada is a huge English speaking country and as far as I can establish the French speaking end of it is regarded as an anomaly.

Minority rights are important in any civilised society but not when a suffering majority is not even afforded a basic right such as the health care it pays taxes for.