Monday, 30 April 2012

The Value of Being Well Advised

The Bel-Tel reports on a visit by Charles and Camilla to St. George's Church of Ireland in Belfast's High Street. Despite almost every proper name being rendered incorrectly, the anonymous article is fascinating for what it tells us about royal thinking.

For the real news story here is not the visit of the heir apparent and his consort to a bastion of High Church Anglicanism in a Low Church enclave, but the symbolic role of the Irish language, Charles having been presented with a copy of the Book of Common Prayer translated by Rev. Gary Hastings and welcomed by members of Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise and the "Church of Ireland Irish Language Guild" (surely the same organisation).

It is now some months since Peter Robinson expounded on the need to attract Catholic Unionists. While garnering DUP voters from among that community might prove a tall order, there is no doubt that a minority of Catholics — perhaps a decisive one in any future border poll — could be won over to more general support for the Union.

In these days of power-sharing, and with a Catholic-majority workforce perhaps only eight years away, there may be only three significant issues that might deter them: the lack of public recognition afforded to the Irish language and its attendant culture; the perceived harassment and provocation of sectarian Loyalist anti-culture, especially during the marching season; and the Unionist monopoly on publicly sanctioned political symbols, particularly flags. Of course, the flags question might not be that important to potential Catholic Unionists anyway, and while the Irish language is often cited as a stumbling block to political rapprochement, it is surely the least controversial of the three issues listed above, and thus the easiest to accommodate.

In that regard, Irish-speakers do not appreciate being told that they have spent years of hard slog becoming proficient in the language solely in order to annoy Protestants, nor that they wish signage to take account of place-names in their authentic form as part of a fiendish plan to mark out tribal areas, as the Alliance Party's Anna Lo would have it.

With the Queen recently having made headlines with the short phrase "A Uachtaráin agus a chairde", it seems that the royals may be rather better advised than some of the Unionist parties about the best way to achieve and safeguard their political goals.

In that context, the blocks on decision-making negotiated by Peter Robinson at the time of the St. Andrews Agreement may be losing some of their shine, since they render any fitting recognition of Irish in the public sphere difficult, if not impossible.

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