Thursday, 9 August 2012

A High-Pressure Area





















The man with the winning smile Jim Allister has raised the potential impact on Protestants' job chances of Carál Ní Chuilín's draft language strategy for Irish, claiming that they would be disadvantaged by people's proposed right to conduct business with state agencies in the language of their choice. Mr. Allister points out that only 2% of Protestants have a knowledge of Irish, as opposed to 39% of those in the Catholic community.

Now, it was once the case in the Irish Republic that competence in the first national language was required of candidates for posts even when it was not a practical requirement of the job, but that hardly applies now. Surely all those Poles and Lithuanians who moved to Ireland while the Celtic Tiger burned bright were not unduly disadvantaged by their ignorance of an Ghaeilge. Even if Protestants were disadvantaged, one suspects that any change would be gradual, with ample time to make the language available to pupils in controlled schools — unless, of course, there were an irrational antipathy towards it that might prevent that.

Mr. Allister also suspects that the strategy was launched on 11 July so that it might escape the attention of Protestants. But aren't they considerably more likely than Catholics to be in Northern Ireland around that time of year? The consultation in any case runs to 27 November.

Strangely, he further claims that a consultation document as opposed to a policy requires the agreement of the Executive. It may well be that some aspects of the strategy do not gain the agreement of the Executive, but it is entirely within the competence of the Minister to present it with a finished document. Indeed, in Westminster, David Cameron intends to call a vote on reforms to parliamentary boundaries, despite the fact that he will be lucky to win it without the support of his coalition partners.

Perhaps Mr. Allister's most bizarre contention is that the strategy will make "it easier to get government funding for an Irish-only school even if there is no need for one because there are English-speaking schools in the area". While the overall number of school-age children in an area is a perfectly valid criterion for deciding the viability of a new school, is not the whole point of Irish-medium education that it is not in English? Moreover, given Mr. Allister's intimate knowledge of the religious breakdown among Irish-speakers, it should be obvious to him that a new Irish school is very unlikely to impact much on the education of Protestant children.

There has been much speculation recently with regard to the impact of man-made global warming on the weather in this part of Europe, with some plausibly arguing that any unsettled patterns locally are a result of a much wider set of circumstances.

Yes, folks, it's going to be blustery.

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