Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Níl Aon Mheirg ar an Fheirg

The future of the Irish language is now a subject of discussion North and South, with the Examiner arguing that the EU respects it more than the native political class. The result is that in Ireland itself it is seen and rarely heard, being "a largely silent presence" used "for decoration rather than for its full potential".

Irish Central, on the other hand, argues that it is now too late to save Irish. It's unfortunate that Irish Americans, many of whom will have little opportunity to gauge a wider cross-section of opinion, are being exposed to such views, which, apart from anything else, handily excuse the person articulating them from any regret at his or her personal linguistic failings. The article is also ill-informed (did seven out of eight Irish people really use the language daily on the eve of the Famine?). It ends, bizarrely, with the author asking his readers' forgiveness for the faulty Irish of the proverb he offers them. It would be difficult to imagine a professional journalist doing the like with any other language: particularly in these days of the Internet, he would just go and check it. Even if we think Irish is dead, we can still show it a little respect.

The BBC, meanwhile, reports on Julian de Spáinn, Ard-Rúnaí of Conradh na Gaeilge, calling for the introduction (for which, read "reinstatement") of recruitment quotas for Irish-speakers in the South's Civil Service. The element that piqued the BBC's interest appears to be Mr. de Spáinn's comparison of this with the Patten rules on 50/50 PSNI recruitment, the implication being that if the imperfectly democratic Northern polity can take such novel steps in the cause of equality, perhaps the South should be even more ashamed.

It is an unfortunate comparison that will no doubt elicit a predictable response from Unionists, many of whom, such as Newtwon Emerson, already see the promotion of Irish as a case of "jobs for the boys". The Blether Region simply cannot see it happening up here. That is not to say, however, that it would not be a good idea. The Northern Ireland Civil Service is already a bloated institution, and enough money to cover the change could easily be found through savings elsewhere.

On the wider issue of Irish in the North, following the recent "Dearg le Fearg" demonstration that brought 10,000 Gaeilgeoirí to the streets of Dublin, a Belfast follow-up has been arranged for 12 April. No doubt it will be aimed as much at the incompetence of Sinn Féin as the intransigence of Unionists. In today's fraught atmosphere of flag protests and pickets, however, that might not be evident to everyone. Let's hope that it's allowed to pass off peacefully.

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