Monday, 14 April 2014

The Irish Language and Demographic Change

Anyone who has watched the news over the years will be familiar with a phenomenon that has played out after any big demonstration: the organisers claim one figure for those taking part, while the police produce another, much smaller tally. Not being given to demonstrating as a rule, the Blether Region had never experienced it personally — never, that is, until last Saturday, when the Blether Family took part in the Dearg le Fearg parade from the Falls Road to Custom House Square.

By far the most egregious underestimate, however, came not from the PSNI but from the BBC, whose first report claimed that there were only 2,000 people in attendance, a total that was certainly only a third of the true number, perhaps as low as a fifth. Not only that, but the event was covered third in Saturday's BBC news bulletin, the lead story being — wait for it — a couple arrested because they had a block of cannabis.

On the corporation's website, the story is, if anything, yet worse, for the pre-parade report has not even been updated properly, still beginning "Irish language speakers are marching in Belfast on Saturday in protest over what they described as Stormont's 'failure' to protect the language."

Yes, dear reader, it's biased too. Note to BBC sub-eds: if one prefaces someone's opinion that something is a failure with "what they described as", there is clearly no need to put the word "failure" in inverted commas — unless one thinks said opinion particularly loopy and wishes to distance oneself from it rather more than usual.

Given the spectacular bias shown by the BBC in its coverage of the Scots referendum campaign, including giving the platform of two one-hour documentaries to a Conservative MP (apparently a romantic Brittonic nationalist) so that he could refer to the existence of Scotland as a "pernicious scar", it is fair to say that the corporation is not acquitting itself particularly well nowadays. Of course, similar such claims have been made in the past, even including the allegation that TV news transposed the order of charges made by police and pickets during the mediaeval pitched battles of the 1984-5 miners' strike.

While demonstrators may with some justification be dearg le fearg about the reporting of the event, there was little sign of anger on the day — except from a lone Loyalist whom no one had informed that the Union Flag is two-thirds Gaelic (and whose ancestry, indeed, may hardly differ).

The reason for the parade's good nature may be down to two connected reasons, the number of children from Gaelscoileanna taking part and the fact that it has been estimated that Northern Ireland will have a Catholic majority as soon as 30 January 2017 (a voting majority will take a while longer).

Although the end of the Union is by no means guaranteed by that, an Irish Language Act is clearly coming, the only question being whether it will be achieved through devolution or, should Unionists choose to shoot themselves in the foot, direct rule. Indeed, any party that wishes to prosper would do well to take that into account. At the moment, while economic discrimination may be in its death throes, cultural discrimination — and provocation — continues unabated.

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