Thursday, 15 January 2015

In with the Old?

DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín has confirmed that her Department will be publishing an Irish Language Bill at the beginning of February as part of a public consultation.

The German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt once wrily remarked that the people with the most dangerous view of the world were those who had never actually viewed it, and the legislative proposals have already attracted the ire of the usual suspects — far in advance of their actually having been made available to the public.

On last night's Newsline, the blinkers were very much in metaphorical evidence, with disgraced former Minister Nelson McCausland gaily denouncing the unread (and partly unwritten) legislation. In the view of Concubhar Mac Liatháin, McCausland's pronouncements on the subject have referenced the "ancient language of the 1980s".

Indeed, things have moved on quite considerably since then, and with a quarter of the population now voting Sinn Féin, one would have to have a very good reason not to grant them the inherently reasonable wish to have the same linguistic rights as Gaels in Scotland (indeed, SDLP voters are hardly likely to be against it either). In the genteelly perverse world of Ulster Unionism, however, the very fact that Shinners are so numerous is a sound reason not to play ball, since Nationalist voters embody the demographic and therefore political precariousness of Northern Ireland. Hardly the time for "Ulster" to go all Southern, they say.

Of course, Mr. McCausland's retro view of the world was not helped by Máirtín Ó Muilleoir, who referred to those who had struggled for the right to use the language in prison — omitting to mention that they were not in prison for speaking Irish and were partly using it as a device to prevent warders understanding them.

There is no doubt that McCausland, for all his claims to the contrary, understands perfectly well that calls to promote Irish are based on genuine sentiment, however. Why else would he suggest that Ms Ní Chuilín was endeavouring to please her party's "base"?

That said, the timing of bringing forward such a Bill, with a Westminster election on the cards, is interesting too. Could it be that Sinn Féin intends to follow the Blether Region's advice and let Westminster, perhaps in the form of a Labour/SNP coalition, fulfil the pledges of a previous Administration?

Or do they just want to make the Unionists look bad at election time and hoover up the votes of Gaeilgeoirí one last time?

We'll soon see.

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