Tuesday, 9 November 2010

A "Barrel Load of Money"

Monday saw a Private Member's motion at Stormont on the tardy indigenous languages strategy.

If the transcript in the Official Report is anything to go by, the debate was characterised by raucous interruptions and mutual recrimination. The following points stand out, however:

The original Sinn Féin motion called only for an indigenous languages strategy; it was the SDLP amendment, which Sinn Féin accepted, that called for an Irish language Act. Was this an example of careful choreography intended to show that an Act is a mainstream concern shared by all Nationalists, or does it mean that Sinn Féin, stung by the disconnect between rhetoric and achievement, would now accept a mere strategy?

Former DCAL Minister Gregory Campbell stated:

"One thing is for sure, however: Irish language enthusiasts will not get the barrel load of money that they used to get while Ulster Scots was deprived. That will not happen."

— clear confirmation a) that the DUP's determination to promote Ulster Scots ahead of both capacity and public demand is working to the detriment of Irish and b) that Irish is — or, if nothing changes, could soon be — worse off than under direct rule.

Although it was to be expected that otherwise moderate Unionists would act as lobby fodder to oppose the motion, it is clear too that the Alliance Party, which reluctantly supported it, has a lot to learn. Despite Anna Lo's eminently sensible words about using sign language and the languages of immigrants as tools to ensure access to public services, there is clearly no direct equivalence with Irish or Scots when it comes to teaching immigrant languages to young people. Useful as Chinese may be to (Northern) Ireland PLC, the tongue of well over a billion people simply does not fit into a minority-languages discourse. Every immigrant who accepts that his or her descendants will remain in their new home for ever enters into a compact with the host country and accepts also that, at some stage or other, those descendants are likely to lose their ancestral language. Indeed, in the course of time, through intermarriage, they are likely to disappear as a separate ethnic group altogether, something that may already be happening with Afro-Caribbean Britons.

It is a confused party that uses the arguments of those who oppose an Irish language Act while voting in its favour.

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