Monday, 8 April 2013

Papering Over the Cracks

Conradh na Gaeilge's Julian de Spáinn has called for the development of an all-Ireland strategy for Irish.

In an ideal world, that is of course just what would be happening, but unfortunately the fact is that there are two jurisdictions on the island, with different education systems, different parties in power, and different approaches and attitudes towards the promotion of Irish and its presence in the public sphere. Perhaps most relevantly, the effective veto on a language Act wielded by Unionist parties since the St. Andrews Agreement means that there is unlikely to be one as long as that agreement remains in force. Ironically, perhaps the best that Irish-language campaigners can hope for is a suspension of the devolved institutions, with Westminster forced into keeping its promise to pass an Act. History shows, however, that once Stormont is suspended, it can prove very difficult to get it back up and running.

And as the 20-year strategy for Irish devised by the last Fianna Fáil Government has already, in the view of many, including the Gaelic League itself, been watered down, it's difficult to see the logic of grafting on a polity where half the population is, at best, neutral with regard to Irish.

That's not to say that all cross-border co-operation on language is a bad thing. Although the Ulster-Scots Agency established under the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement has been a more or less unmitigated disaster, when Foras na Gaeilge was set up it created an expectation of parity, or at least an ambition to achieve it, in the treatment of Irish on the two sides of the border. Funding decisions, however, took account of the different circumstances involved.

A cynical interpretation of Mr. de Spáinn's call would situate it in the context of ongoing manoeuvring on the funding of Irish-language organisations, with the smaller ones in the North worried that, in this case, an all-Ireland ethos might simply mean the end.

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