Thursday, 9 January 2014

Mr. Cab Driver

This week saw two stories that touch on the relationship of Irish with the sectarian divide. In the first, it was announced that East Belfast Mission has now dedicated an entire floor of the Skainos Centre to the Irish-language project Turas, where classes are taught by Linda Ervine, a schoolteacher and wife of former Progressive Unionist Party leader, Brian Ervine. There are now eight classes a week in the mission building, a testament to the level of interest among adult Protestants, most of whom, for political reasons, have had no opportunity to learn the language at school. While the project — unthinkable only a few years ago — is an undoubted success, it remains worthy of comment that it takes place in a building associated with evangelicalism and is taught by someone with familial links to the UVF, whose best-known members were perhaps the Shankill Butchers. What would happen, one wonders, were a more neutral organisation such as Ultach Trust to open an office in the same area?

The other case is a further instance of shame for Scotland — localised in the west, yes, but easily capable of embarrassing everyone (it is being reported as far afield as Cork). It seems that a taxi-driver upbraided two native speakers of Irish for using the language in the back of his cab and, when they complained, put everyone out. In a year when Scotland seems happily not to have embraced the worst of current overheated English rhetoric on immigration, it is a cause of sadness that racism is still acceptable for some — as long as it is connected with football or religion.

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