Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Putting the Dog Out in Irish

Yesterday saw a brace of language-related articles.

BBC Northern Ireland reports on the response to an Assembly question about money spent on the Department for Regional Development's Irish-language classes, informing us that the Minister had "sparked controversy" by introducing them. Yet the sum of money in question turns out to have been a measly £2,284. Once again, it seems, the cost of exposing — and reporting on — language spending threatens to be greater than the extent of the spending itself.

It has become drearily apparent that the dudgeon worked up over "wasting public money" in this context is out of all proportion to the financial implications — although it is entirely in line with febrile Unionist attitudes to Irish. For the purposes of comparison, way back in 2006 the Guardian had the following to say about the spending priorities of a certain poll-tax-funded corporation:

"The BBC today unveiled the first eight idents at a cost of £150,000 each, and given that BBC1 aims to produce as many as 15 over the life of the new range of promotional clips, the total cost could rise to as much as £2.25m."

The "idents", to which the article refers are the self-promotional snippets that we see between programmes (they currently do a nice one with hippos). Perhaps the BBC is being impartial when it chooses to humour rather than challenge Unionist play-acting in this context. On the other hand, the phrase "pot calling kettle black" might also spring to mind — were it not for the fact that the kettle itself seems remarkably shiny in this case.

Also on broadcasting, the Belfast Telegraph covers the £1 million going on the Ulster-Scots broadcasting fund — an odd focus, given the £20 million for Irish mentioned later in the article, albeit to 2015 rather than this year. As the Blether Region has warned before, spending money on "Ulster Scots" but then diluting it by additionally covering heritage and culture may not be the best use of public funds when it comes to promoting minority languages, although it has considerable history in the form of the Ulster-Scots Agency.

Moreover, in this case it could have the unintended effect of skewing broadcasting output towards one community in a way that language alone does only for those who cling to the black-and-white notion that Scots is only for Protestants and Irish only for Catholics.

On a related topic, last year the Blether Region attended a cross-community event in Downpatrick at which one of the speakers was an Northern Anglican clergyman who had translated the Book of Common Prayer into Irish. Asked by a member of the audience whether Irish was widely spoken in his Southern parish, he replied, "Sure, them boys couldn't put the dog out in Irish," after a pause adding, "And if they did, they wouldn't get it back in."

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