The former culture minister Caral Ni Chuilin was “not grounded in reality” when she endorsed the idea that an Irish language act would not be discriminatory.
That was the view put forward by top Orangeman Dr David Hume in 2015, when he issued a detailed rebuttal to Ms Ni Chuilin’s plan for what such an act should look like.
Dr Hume, writing on behalf of the whole Grand Orange Lodge of Ireland, went on to stress the Order’s “respect” for that language – adding that some of its own members are Irish speakers.
His comments came in a letter to the now-defunct Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure, then overseen by Ms Ni Chuilin, in April 2015.
The News Letter discovered it after going through more than 300 pages of consultation responses written in reaction Ms Ni Chuilin’s proposals.
Yesterday, the Orange Order said: “Our position regarding legislation for the Irish language remains unchanged.”
Ms Ni Chuilin had suggested nine things such an act should contain, ranging from “affirmative action” to increase the number of Irish speakers in the public sector, to establishing an Irish Language Commissioner to promote the use of the language (with the caveat that failure to co-operate with their work would be a prosecutable offence).
The proposals concluded with an assessment that Irish language legislation would have a positive impact, indirectly, “on Catholics, nationalists, single people, younger people, people without a disability and people with dependants” – adding that the department saw “no discriminatory or adverse impacts”.
Dr Hume said this view was “erroneous and not grounded in reality”.
He said that “clearly” the Irish language is seen as largely being the preserve of the one community, and believed “community relations would suffer as a consequence” of any such act.
According to a 2015/16 survey of 3,285 people (aged 16-and-over) by the Department for Communities, 29% of Catholics “have knowledge of Irish”, compared with 3% of Protestants.
In addition, the survey also found that 28% of Catholics “are interested in learning Irish”, as opposed to 11% of Protestants.
Dr Hume went through each of Ms Ni Chuilin’s department’s nine suggestions in order, and attacked all of them.
For example, o n the subject of Irish in the public sector, he wrote that “the proscriptive and legislative route would not lead to greater respect for the Irish language and would indeed prompt very negative views on it”.
As for the idea of a commissioner whom people would be legally-bound to obey, he said “the nature of the post sand the proscriptive nature of the legislation” would likewise hurt community relations.