Wednesday, 5 November 2014

"Curry My Yoghurt"

Those watching the news or reading the papers over the last few days will have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of a former Executive Minister trotting out carefully crafted gibberish in order to disparage the language responsible for his own surname. In fact, Gregory Campbell even managed to fluff his self-penned lines (perhaps an unsurprising slip, given that he has such little regard for practical linguists).

Once upon a time it would have been acceptable to attack someone's religion in a similar fashion, and a lasting reminder of such tactics still adorns English in the form of "hocus pocus" ("hoc est corpus"). Nowadays, of course, new coinages at least are a no-no, but, given the existence of clearly understood cultural packages in Northern Ireland, for the incorrigible chauvinist language can be an attractive point-scoring proxy — like criticising someone's huge trousers because you're not allowed to call them fat. Mr. Gregory's culinary bent in that respect has form. For many years, sectarian wags have referred to Irish Gaelic as "garlic", which sums up many of the things they hate: middle-class Ulster-British pretension; cosmopolitanism; and Catholic southern Europe. It's unlikely that he could have got away with treating the language of an ethnic minority in the same fashion, although had he done so, a DUP petition of concern would no doubt have been mobilised to protect him.

Later, after suffering a day's speaking ban at a time when he was in any case away in London, Mr. Campbell appeared on UTV Live and, when Caitríona Ruane was interviewed in the main studio, feigned the involuntary whistle of a bad sleeper. Embarrassingly for Northern Ireland and the DUP in particular, such schoolboy behaviour will have done the 61-year-old no harm whatsoever with the voters. Indeed, like many an instance of forthright sectarian banter, it will merely have underlined how very different Northern Ireland is from Wales and, in particular, Scotland, with which many Protestants claim a special bond. Among the politicians of those countries, autochthonous Celtic languages enjoy overwhelming support or at least lip-service.

But why did Mr. Campbell wait until now before expressing such "long overdue" thoughts on Irish? It is true that it happened when discussing an Assembly Question on the language, and that is no doubt a factor. However, the Blether Region suspects that it is also because there is a Westminster election coming up and the DUP would like Protestants to forget that in 2007 it willingly entered a coalition with Sinn Féin.

They must think folk are stupid.

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