Unionism can help depoliticise Irish, to its benefit and to ours.

I’ve argued previously on Three Thousand Versts that unionists must adopt a more subtle approach to the Irish Language. Although I recognise the difficulties that its politicisation has precipitated for unionism, I believe that a more constructive strategy can minimise the political capital extracted from the language by Sinn Féin and locate unionist argument on a more tenable footing as regards the diversity of cultures encompassed within the UK, and their protection.

Perhaps this position might be gaining a little currency in some quarters. Dawn Purvis suggested to the Progressive Unionist annual conference, held on Saturday, that it is counterproductive for unionists to continue to treat the Irish Language as a cultural battleground. She would like to see the DUP ‘wrest control of the debate’ from nationalism by bringing forward proposals for Irish Language legislation. Her view is endorsed by an unlikely source on Slugger O’Toole.

Whether it is necessary for unionists to shape an Irish Language Act, in order to seize initiative on this issue, or take less dramatic steps, I am not quite sure (although I can certainly see the attractions of Purvis’ argument). What I can state with absolute conviction, is that it would be entirely beneficial for unionism if its main parties drastically rethought their attitude to Irish.

Openly celebrating any perceived reversal which is inflicted on the Irish Language lobby is simply not good enough (and I will admit that both main unionist parties have at times been guilty of this). It exacerbates a vicious circle whereby Sinn Féin is seen to be advancing the language’s interests against the intractable opposition of unionism.

Unionists can draw poison from this debate by forming constructive suggestions to help the Irish Language to flourish, whilst simultaneously imposing more appropriate parameters than its fundamentalists would be inclined to draw. Whether the means to achieve this is an Irish Language Act or not, unionists can propose initiatives to boost Gaelige (and other minority tongues) within the cultural sphere, whilst ensuring that expensive and discriminatory initiatives to impose its provision in public life, the courts, local government and private business, are not included.

In so doing, the language will become less politicised, and that can only be to the benefit of those who truly hold its interests to be of paramount importance. Unionism will benefit too.


Aidan said…
To be honest anybody who really cares about the language would want it to be depoliticized. If even a small number of unionists started to wonder where the place names they live in came from and were inspired to learn a bit more about the Gaelic languages then I think that the Irish language could be a source of shared pride and not contention.
Actually the brilliant nós magazine (with a subs address in Newry, http://www.nosmag.com/) carries articles in both Irish and Scots Gaelic so the east-west relations that unionists cherish are not alien to Irish speakers by any means.
Anonymous said…
The goal you describe can be achieved through the Irish Language strategy the executive is to produce no need to legislate.

Depoliticisation is best acheived by the ones who did it the first place rather than others.
Owen Polley said…
Why would SF seek to depoliticise the language? It is not in their interests to do so. It is in the interests of unionism to take the sting out of an emotive issue. Fair enough pursue these goals through the IL strategy, but start pursuing them and start realising that consistent hostility to the language serves no purpose.
Anonymous said…
"Depoliticisation is best acheived by the ones who did it the first place rather than others."

Dont see what the UUP could really do at this stage?
Anonymous said…
As I usually slag you off here, I thought it fair to say that I think this is actually smart politics.
Anonymous said…
I agree. As a unionists I really don't have that we much to fear (as unionists) from an Irish Language Act in itself. There is a wide range of ILAs that could be brought in. Why not go for one and make it one that suits unionists? And at the same time redefine our unionism to make it bigger bolder more inclusive and ultimately stronger?

Owen Polley said…
"Dont see what the UUP could really do at this stage?"

The UUP politicised the Irish language? :-/
Anonymous said…
*It was the UUP who were in power when the original Gaelscoil parents where original Gaelscoil parents were.(Late 1960s)

* It was the UUP who were in power when Irish was banned from public threatened with imprisonment.

* It was the UUP who removed the language from the education system.


Indeed the only reason Irish was not banned outright by the UUP was that some in the party relalised that absolute oppresion would result in a situation were 'the very dogs in the street will bark in Irish'.
Owen Polley said…
Measures unconvivial to the IL were pursued because of its politicisation, they did not politicise it!
Anonymous said…
Measures unconvivial to the IL were pursued because of its politicisation, they did not politicise it!

They were the partner in crime in its politicisation.
Owen Polley said…
Kloot. Irish was politicised long before there was any unionist government in Stormont.
Anonymous said…
Kloot. Irish was politicised long before there was any unionist government in Stormont.

True enough.. Your talking about it when the teaching of Irish was banned in schools in the 18th century are you ? ;)
Anonymous said…
I agree with Chekov.

If those monoglot Irish speakers hadnt insisted on using Irish in their legal dealings then it would not have had to have been banned.
Concubhar said…
If you really want to take the initiative on the Irish language, a starting point could be:
Irish is part of the family of Celtic languages - Welsh, Scots Gaelic, Cornish, Manx. As such it deserves protection and promotion as these languages do. Irish as spoken in NI on that scale would be somewhere between Scots Gaelic and Welsh(at the top) in terms of usage.
Rather than spend money on translating documents which are unread in English even to Irish, why not champion the investment of money in Irish language media, such as the Broadcast Fund and, dare I say, the newspaper which I used to edit, Lá Nua. This has a double purpose - it helps promote Irish beyond 'nationalist/republican' enclaves as TV and Radio - Raidio Fáilte for instance, is available on your TV/Radio wherever you are. You can read Lá Nua online, wherever you are. Of course Lá Nua, due to short-sighted Foras na Gaeilge strategy and the attempt by Sinn Féin to censor the daily Irish language newspaper, is shortly to out of business but there is an opportunity to put in its place a proper online news service. That could be the point of first contact with the language.
There's no point in setting up Irish language voicemail services which nobody uses....
Owen Polley said…
"Rather than spend money on translating documents which are unread in English even to Irish, why not champion the investment of money in Irish language media, such as the Broadcast Fund and, dare I say, the newspaper which I used to edit, Lá Nua."

I agree with the crux of what you're saying, although if it were possible to fund an Irish language newspaper not owned by a republican company, then that might to more to decontaminate the language from those connotations.
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