Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Nelson, Monica, Ted and Alice

The Belfast Telegraph reports that DCAL Minister Nelson McCausland has rejected a call from the Human Rights Commission for an Irish Language Act.

Justifying his decision, Mr. McCausland once again stated that, in his view, promotion of Irish should be tied to promotion of Ulster Scots.

"I believe that the lack of consensus on the issue of legislation for the Irish language would be detrimental to the protection and promotion of the language in the context of a shared future, and I believe that the best way forward for both minority languages in Northern Ireland is through the strategy for regional or minority languages."

There are several difficulties with the above.

The first is that it is dependent on the notion that Irish is somehow for Catholics and Nationalists only, while the local dialect of Scots is only for Protestants and Unionists. There need be no such neat divides, and allowing oneself to be circumscribed by stereotypes may mean that one does serious damage to the speech varieties that one wishes to protect, something particularly true of Ulster Scots, which has large numbers of Catholic and Nationalist users but whose promotion has been entrusted to a Protestant feel-good organisation with a board dominated by elected Unionist politicians.

A further issue is the two speech varieties' degree of development. It is clearly much lower in the case of Ulster Scots. Nor is there as much demand for the dialect as there is for Irish. On either count, promotion of Irish could virtually cease. Of course, Irish-language activists point out that Irish is being treated differently from Scottish Gaelic in Scotland and Welsh in Wales. But that comparison is intended to encourage levelling up, not down.

Then there is the question of whether current plans for Ulster Scots are likely to bear fruit. In the Blether Region's view, the answer is likely to be a resounding "no". A cynic might even point out that Mr. McCausland's pursuit of linguistic independence for Ulster Scots in defiance of academic consensus is a course ill-advised enough to guarantee that it, and by extension Irish, will fail to grow.

One is tempted to interpret the Minister's concern about "lack of consensus" as meaning that Unionists hold a veto over what degree of public recognition and support should be accorded to Irish.

In response, a spokeswoman for the Human Rights Commission said, "It is precisely when there is no consensus that minorities need legal recognition, respect and protection of their rights."

In other words, in the context of d'Hondt, Irish needs a language Act to protect it from a DUP Culture Minister.

By a strange twist of fate, on his own blog, the Minister has today attacked Monica McWilliams, although with no mention of his concurrent dealings with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission — the body that Professor McWilliams heads.

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