Tuesday, 18 November 2014

Where Your Granny Walks Her Dog

The BBC reports that owing to a technical glitch users of the Líofa website were able to access the names and addresses of people who had signed up to become fluent in Irish by 2015.

In any normal country, of course, that would have been relevant only to the fight against identity theft or credit-card fraud; the worst-case scenario, perhaps, would be a violent stalker. In Northern Ireland, on the other hand, there are a whole plethora of other fears relating to communal strife, and even politicians who regard themselves as moderate go around declaring that Sinn Féin is "using" the language to rile Protestants — without any regard to the fact that by making such claims they may be promoting sectarian stereotypes.

Given the deep-seated sectarianism of Protestant paramilitaries, however, the increased threat to those Catholics whose names were published must be fairly minimal.

Indeed, it occurs to the Blether Region that Protestant learners might have less luck.

Back in the early 1970s the IRA made a point of killing Catholic recruits to the RUC. Of course, during the course of the Troubles it killed far more Protestant members, but the killing of Catholic policemen was both easier, since they visited Catholic areas, and, very likely, seen as an effective tool in discouraging other Catholics from joining up. While in the 1970s the IRA sometimes also killed Protestant civilians in tit-for-tat operations (the most notorious being the Kingsmill massacre), and, where it killed members of the security forces in border areas, may have preferred to kill Protestant farmers' eldest sons, little acknowledgment has been made of its targeting of Catholic RUC men.

Nowadays, of course, a death related to political conflict is a relatively rare occurrence in Northern Ireland, but many people, particularly those in interface areas or ethnic minorities living in working-class Protestant redoubts, still find themselves intimidated or attacked. The Alliance Party office on the Upper Newtownards Road has been bombed or vandalised many times as a result of the flag protest whirlwind unleashed by its Westminster rivals the DUP — precisely because it reached out to the other side.

It remains to be seen if anything will come out of the incident with the Líofa website — probably not. But, as ever in Northern Ireland, the nagging fear of being targeted for being different remains.

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