Monday, 21 July 2014

Polemical Alignments

It is a fact that some people grow more right-wing with age. Sometimes it's to do with changes in their lives: parenthood; the achievement of a modest sort of prosperity; bewilderment at a world of never-ending change and collapsing verities. In other cases the reasons are more complex. The journalist Melanie Philips, for example, used to be staunchly left-wing in her views but migrated to the right, now colourfully describing herself as a liberal "who has been mugged by reality" (others call her "Mad Mel"). Perhaps the Blether Region is doing her a disfavour by suggesting that Melanie may be one of those people for whom a single issue, in her case her support for Israel through thick and thin, has been allowed to define her politics, the establishment of an archipelago of colonies on land seized in 1967 having occurred hand in hand with the rise of the free marketeers of Likud — followed, for both reasons, by a revolution in attitudes to the country among the European left.

Some years ago the Blether Region encountered Aidan Doyle, an Irish-language academic who held strong views on the North. The civil conflict there was, in his view, the product not of history but of the sheer badness, both personal and communal, of Northern Nationalists. Now Dr. Doyle has penned a confused article on the Irish language subtitled "No amount of campaigning can transform the situation of a weak language". That comes as something of a surprise, since it goes against much of what we know about minority languages, i.e. that the provision of services, achieved by just such campaigning, is the key to their survival.
"A minority takes article 8 of the Constitution seriously, maintaining that it has a right to State services through the medium of Irish. What is interesting about this group is that it consists for the most part of non-native speakers, people who have decided that Irish is an important part of their identity, but whose first language is English.
This is a rather uncomfortable fact. One can sympathise with a native speaker of say Flemish in Belgium demanding that their children be schooled in their native language, but it is more difficult to grant victim status to a native English speaker from Dublin demanding the same service for their offspring. The fact that something is enshrined in the Constitution does not necessarily mean that it is morally justified."
It is a true that there are unenforceable and embarrassing provisions in the Irish Constitution, but those concerning Irish are not (or at least need not be) among them. One wonders also where the talk of moral justification has sprung from. Creating and enforcing linguistic rights has a sound practical rationale, and one that most Irish people understand and support. To suggest otherwise is to adopt the reductively utilitarian attitudes of Northern Unionists. But of course, that may be the attraction, since according to Dr. Doyle the appointment of two clueless Béarlóirí to the Department of Arts, Heritage and Gaeltacht Affairs has led to "the usual flurry of protests from Irish-language organisations and Sinn Féin Deputies". In fact, although it would indeed now be difficult for anyone who feels that the Irish language is very or fairly important to vote Fine Gael, such protests were by no means limited to the Shinners.

Dr. Doyle's view of how many people are fluent in Irish is just as peculiar.
"Every year a few dozen students graduate from third-level institutions with an impressive command of the language, and I know many foreigners who speak Irish really well. But most people simply don’t have the time, dedication and plain linguistic ability to achieve that level."
The Blether Region recently marched from the Falls Road to Belfast city centre with 6,000 people to protest at the absence of a language Act in the North, and, although virtually all of them spoke Irish, the majority had never been to university and never will. It is true that the Irish of learners is not always grammatically or idiomatically perfect, but they are Irish-speakers nonetheless. The same is true of English-speakers in Ireland, who are similarly the product of language shift.

If Dr. Doyle thinks otherwise, he should try explaining to an Englishman or American that the Fine Gael Shoneens are after leaving Irish in the ha'penny place and see how they react.

But, of course, for whatever reason, he probably wouldn't say that.

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