Thursday, 16 January 2014

The View from Without

The UK Government has been strongly criticised by the Council of Europe's Committee of Experts responsible for the monitoring of undertakings made under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. Last year the Blether Region reported that the Northern Ireland Executive had failed to agree a joint response to the Council's triennial request for a report on implementation of the Charter, perhaps because some criteria were no longer being fulfilled. Now the Committee of Experts has issued its own report castigating the failure of the Executive to pass a language Act, remove unwarranted restrictions on the use of Irish before the courts, and introduce a system of simultaneous translation for Members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, which already pays for such a system for the benefit of the Speaker and Clerk but for political reasons refuses to extend it further at what would presumably be minimal cost. In a blow to Unionists and the Alliance Party, the Council also sided with Sinn Féin on the use of bilingual signage.

On Ulster Scots, the tenor was markedly more positive, even if the report found that the dialect was still largely "absent from public life" — with the Ulster-Scots Agency in particular singled out for praise. Such positivity reflects the Council of Europe's adherence to the fiction that Ulster Scots is a language separate from Scots and its lack of any expert linguistic input to determine the value of relevant initiatives, deficiencies that may well be linked.

Ironically, Richard Haass, chair of recent failed round-table talks in Northern Ireland, has appeared on CNN studiously avoiding any mention of the province but describing the Arab world in the following terms:
"These are societies that have never really dealt successfully with modernity.
You've never had a clear divide between the religious and the secular. People confuse democracy and majoritarianism. There's not a real sense of minority rights or places in these societies."
Sound familiar? 

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