Mary Russell seeks to counter my letter of 23 September (‘The political parties that demand an Irish language act cannot themselves speak it’) by arguing by analogy.
Supporters of gay rights, she writes, need not be gay; supporters of abortion need not be women only (‘There is no need for those who lobby for the Irish language to be able to speak it,’ Oct 4).
Her analogies do not work.
A heterosexual supporter of gay rights would have to change his orientation to become gay; a male supporter of abortion would have to change to sex to become a woman – and even then he would not be able to bear children, still less destroy them in the womb.
Supporters of Irish need only learn and use Irish to make clear their commitment to Irish. All they have to do is attend classes in the language (or they could have tried to pay attention in school as so many of them did not).
Rather than expressing indignation from the other side of the border Mary Russell should ask herself why so many self-styled supporters of Irish have no competence in the language; they claim that the tongue is essential to their Irish identity but they have for the most part only a limited ability in speaking it.
Why is that so? If it matters so much then they should be able to give the rest of us an example by their knowledge of the language; at the moment it would seem that Irish language agitation is just a way of annoying unionists.
Mary Russell tells us that an Irish language act – I assume that is what she means by recognition of Irish – is the acceptance of an Irish tradition in Northern Ireland.
If so few can speak the language or use it regularly then what is the importance of this tradition?
And must Irishness be defined solely in relation to the Irish language?
The figures that Mary Russell quotes hardly support her case. If only 0.2% of the population use Irish as their first language then there is little evidence of genuine demand, still less of need.
The same can be said for the paltry number of pupils in Irish medium schools – 5,526.
There are no monoglot Irish speakers; all Irish speakers are able to speak and read English.
The practical case for additional protection for Irish has no merit. The present system of public provision for education in Irish in schools and universities is sufficient.
There is no need for bilingual street signs, still less for Irish language quotas in the civil service.
I will conclude by noting that Mary Russell does not say how much (or how little) Irish she knows; or what use she makes of the language. Her letter was written in English so I assume that is her first language.
C.D.C. Armstrong, Belfast, BT12