In so far as it diminishes the possibility of extreme and cripplingly expensive legislation, reports that the Labour Government will not introduce an Irish Language bill at Westminster is good news. To accord the Irish Language equal legal status to English in Northern Ireland would be an impractical, disproportionate and politically loaded means to promote its use and could only result in resentment and enormous expenditure at tax payers’ expense.
I have previously argued that the Irish Language is an important part of the cultural fabric of the United Kingdom and that it therefore deserves appropriate support in the spheres of culture and education. Unfortunately the language’s politicisation has ensured that there are few advocates of a middle ground on the Irish Language. On one hand we have Sinn Féin, demanding a bill which would enforce the language’s legal status, with the attendant repercussions for public services, businesses and the courts. On the other we have unionism presenting itself as an implacable opponent of anything which involves the Irish Language, fighting every pound of public funding and celebrating every defeat which its enthusiasts endure.
It is my belief that unionism needs to foster a more generous and constructive attitude towards Gaelic. Without doubt the Irish Language act which Sinn Féin seeks should be opposed. Gaelic car tax forms, legal impositions on private businesses to make Irish language provision and translators, labouring to interpret for those that speak fluent English, in court are simply not tenable. I would however like to see unionists advance some constructive ideas about how to provide support for the language outside the realm of these extreme notions.
By showing that an indigenous, but minority culture, can be accommodated and supported within the United Kingdom, unionists demonstrate the values and benefits which accrue from the Union. That entails money from the cultural pot and perhaps most importantly, substantially less confrontational rhetoric as regards the Irish Language. A subtler approach will actually draw the venom from the issue and wrong foot Sinn Féin, whose narrative constant hostility to the language nurtures.