Thursday, 19 December 2013

The Price of Our Labour

The Economist is carrying a lengthy article on Irish in Northern Ireland.

Unfortunately, there is a basic flaw in it, which is the claim that the language has been doing better since devolution was restored in 2007. In many important respects, it is faring worse. Indeed, the fact that the magazine is fully cognisant of the accommodation endured by Coláiste Feirste — suboptimal to say the least — may suggest that its opinion is mere spin.

While the (American?) author may think that linguistic diversity in Northern Ireland is being given a huge Government boost, that is true only if one compares it with polities that do not actually have any regional languages with substantial demographics behind them.

The fact is that the DUP has been able to block any language Bill from passing as well as proposals that would have allowed bilingual signage. Indeed, through its control of the Department of Finance and Personnel, petitions of concern and its Executive veto, the party is well equipped to do the same with most future proposals to promote the language. The Northern Ireland Place-name Project has already closed, and at one stage a former DUP Culture Minister even planned to spend more on Ulster Scots (a dialect attracting only limited and unrepresentative interest even among Protestants) than Irish. The economic crisis in the south (coupled with a dourly unsympathetic Fine Gall-led Government) has meant that nearly all voluntary Irish-language groups in the North are threatened with closure as part of a cost-saving re-organisation, including Ultach Trust, which was originally set up with UK Government seed money as a direct response to the Troubles.

Recently the Executive failed to agree a response to the Committee of Experts studying the UK's fulfilment of its obligations under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, the suspicion being that, since the DUP eclipsed the UUP and signed up to power-sharing, some criteria are no longer being fulfilled.

True, the language has a vibrant culture on the ground. Much of that, however, is despite, not because of, the current dispensation.

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