Yesterday evening an advertisement ran on UTV here in the North promoting the Department for Education’s (DENI) new campaign/theme ‘Get Involved’. The ad has caused something of a stir with East Derry MLA and MP Gregory Campbell of the DUP asking the Education Minister John O’Dowd in the Assembly today, ‘[i]s this a politically motivated attempt to promote something only in Irish?‘.
I note that others have brought Gregory’s objections up too, whether it is here, here or here (thanks to you all by the way). I bring this issue up as it has a tedious kind of monotony about it, especially the line of questioning and way it goes here in the North. Gregory brings in the standard arguments regarding matters of cultural significance to a large and growing proportion of the population in the North if numbers attending Irish Medium Schools (until 2010) at all levels are anything to go by.
i) Waste of ‘precious’ tax payers’ money. Sure enough, Gregory mentioned this one! He tells the floor of the Assembly ‘Why should the taxpayer be expected to stump up thousands of pounds to people who can already speak and understand English?’. The fact that a large number of children are now schooled in Irish at all levels and that this campaign is aimed at parents getting involved with assisting their children in learning, I would say that many would find having an ad solely in Irish quite a logical step. After all, in many homes people are conversing in Irish and though being a polyglot is known to help improve cognitive abilities, these children will require assistance just as much as children schooled solely in English.
Further, every time the ‘offending’ advertisement is aired in Irish it shall be aired in English ten times. O’Dowd noted that ‘[w]e have a responsibility under legislation, under the European Languages charter and I will continue to use resources properly to promote the use of the Irish medium sector.‘
Well, what are our responsibilities? The Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (“the Charter”) specifically Part II, Chapter 7 details the EIGHT fundamental principles applicable to all languages:
- Recognition of regional or minority languages as an expression of cultural wealth.
- Respect for the geographical area of each regional or minority language.
- The need for resolute action to promote such languages.
- The facilitation and/or encouragement of the use of such languages, in speech and writing, in public and private life.
- The provision of appropriate forms and means for the teaching and study of such languages at all appropriate stages.
- The promotion of relevant transnational exchanges.
- The prohibition of all forms of unjustified distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference relating to the use of a regional or minority language and intended to discourage or endanger its maintenance or development.
- The promotion by states of mutual understanding between all the country’s linguistic groups.
The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers adopted recommendations on April 21, 2010 specifically with regard to the United Kingdom (I know O’Dowd may not like falling under the auspices of recommendations for the UK, but so be it); let’s look at what they were for the Irish language here in the North.
Well, the Council recommended that the UK,’as a matter of priority adopt and implement a comprehensive Irish language policy, preferably through the adoption of legislation.‘
And, as we all know, the promotion of Irish as well as Ulster Scots here in the North is a devolved matter. In the Assembly, in order to bring to the floor and bring into effect an Irish Language Act, a central part of the Council’s recommendations, a cross community majority would need to vote for its implementation. Accordingly, the largest party designated as ‘unionist’ in the Assembly is the DUP and they have let it be known that it is not their party’s policy (link is filed under ‘Priorities’, followed by ‘Culture’) to see this proposed Act come to light.
I will leave it to you to decide whether you feel we are fulfilling the Charter, which the UK has signed up to, or whether we are acting on the recommendations of the Council with regard to their findings.
ii) ‘The campaign in English should be more than sufficient‘
According to the DUP, they believe that the recognition of culture in the North is very important, so important that they have stated:
‘Culture is an essential part of the mix that affirms who we are. The preservation,development and promotion of our rich culture both within Northern Ireland as a region within the United Kingdom and nationally across the United Kingdom is the determined goal of the Democratic Unionist Party.‘
Shortly after the above, they did note that ‘there will be no Irish Language Act‘. They meant this soooo much that they even had it in BLOOD RED! I’m not making this up, red. So, how can they tie in the warm words above with their stance on the Irish language?
Well, over at the Belfast Telegraph, Gregory is quoted as saying:
‘The last census figures we have available highlight that around 90% of the population of Northern Ireland have absolutely no knowledge or use of the Irish language. Of those who do speak, write or understand the Irish language in Northern Ireland, there are none who are unable to speak English.’
Well Gregory, Irish does fall under the remit and definition of a ‘minority’ language (less than 50% of the people here speak it) here in the North, whilst being a ‘regional’ language in the context of the UK. The Assembly is still legally obliged to fulfill the terms and act within the terms of the Charter, further, ‘[c]ulture is an essential part of the mix that affirms who we are,’ so you would imagine that all law abiding members of the Assembly would not want to fall foul of our international obligations, right? Alas, I’m not too certain of that one, after all there is a spirit of civil disobedience permeating among some at the moment.
iii) The language is being kicked around like a political football to score points.
I think Gregory may be on to something with this one, though while his beef is with Nationalists wanting parity of esteem for Irish in the North, Gregory et al in the DUP appear to want to make an issue of this, as has been noted above.
However, if imitation of someone is tantamount to flattery, the DUP must be blushing. Their former competitor, the UUP notes the following:
‘We will oppose the implementation of an unnecessary Irish language Act. Irish language legislation would be costly, especially within the context of the current economic climate, and overtly divisive.’
However, they did note before this that they ‘will continue to promote Ulster Scots as well as British culture in areas such as education, the media and the economy’. So, if I were a unicorn, I mean an Irish speaking unionist my culture is deemed to be un-British and divisive. Let me know how the Kafflik outreach goes Mike.
Not to be outdone, the TUV were peeved to say the least with the DCAL’s consultation in relation to an Irish language strategy. They are of the opinion that, ‘[t]he reality is that any such measures would simply be part of Sinn Fein’s project to rob Northern Ireland of any vestige of Britishness on the international stage.‘ They are as vehemently opposed to an Irish language strategy or act as the DUP and the UUP are also.
Which must beg the question, why ever are unionists so opposed to the promotion of the Irish language?
I’ll leave that for you all to decide of course.