Whilst it is right that Jim Allister should scrutinise any language act lest it foster divisiveness, ‘Britishness’ and ‘Irishness’ are not contraries as he and some other political figures seem to imply (News, June 27).
To do so is to fall for the Sinn Fein game.
The Belfast Agreement recognises older and newer usages of these terms when it notes that people living in Northern Ireland may be recognized as both ‘British’ – which incidentally is not derived from English – and ‘Irish’ which is an English word – that is, neither identity is seen as exclusive of the other.
But oppositely to this they may choose to see themselves ‘Irish’ or ‘British’ in an exclusive sense (although what sense of British that is, is unclear).
That said the exclusive sense is favoured by Sinn Fein – and until that Agreement was signed the sense insisted on by Dublin.
Insisted on with the consequent that Irish people who favoured the union of the Britannic islands (to use the term of the classical geographers stretching back to Aristotle) were taunted as ‘West Britons’, and so seen and dubbed as ‘traitors’ in the totalitarian republican mind set.
The Belfast Agreement brought and end to that. Sinn Fein may favour but cannot insist on the exclusive sense of ‘Irish’. To do so would be to contradict what it signed up to.
Those who think in terms of unionism have been very slow to cotton on to language and its use in shaping thought, as they have been slow to cotton on to Sinn Fein’s abandonment of its past stance in now endorsing merging in the unionism of the EU.
And as for what is now misleadingly called the ‘Irish’ language, to use an English term in speaking of it, the language spoken in the North of Ireland in the 17th and 18th centuries (and earlier) was not what is called the ‘Irish’ language today, what is so called being more that of the Gaelic of Leinster, whereas in the North it was more that of the Gaelic of Scotland – Caledonia had become Scotland, the land of the Scotti of Ireland.
These islands are – and Brexit is awakening us to this – very much interrelated.
W A Miller, Belfast BT13