Saturday, 9 April 2016

Persuasion, or the North's Anger Abbey

Newton Emerson, writing in the Irish News, allows us an insight into the thinking of a "liberal Unionst". The Blether Region places the words in inverted commas, since, as long-time readers will have noted, not even the Northern Ireland Alliance Party is liberal in a way that someone from a mature bilingual polity such as Wales (or even Scotland) might recognise.

The topic of his article is the judicial review sought by Conradh na Gaeilge owing to the refusal on the part of the Alliance and the two Unionist parties in the Executive to countenance an Irish-language strategy. Mr. Emerson compares it with the successful case brought by the Committee for the Administration of Justice over the non-appearance of an anti-poverty strategy.
"Yet one year on, there is no sign or even mention of an anti-poverty strategy, nor presumably will there be until long after next month’s assembly election. Conradh na Gaeilge faces an even emptier victory, as at least everyone at Stormont agrees poverty is bad."
Legally speaking, the Blether Region might have thought that the different mood music was actually good news for Conradh na Gaeilge, since those opposing an Irish-language strategy have done so point-blank because they view it as a bad thing. They cannot argue, as they might have in the case of the anti-poverty strategy, that they simply hadn't got around to it — and they may well be leaving themselves open to contempt-of-court proceedings in due course.

Bluntly, it is not within the competence of the Assembly or its power-sharing Executive simply to decide not to produce a strategy. It is a condition of devolution and of accepting a ministerial salary.

Mr. Emerson also treats us to his view on how to promote Irish.
"Unlocking a political deadlock in Northern Ireland requires changing the other side’s mind.
Consider how much progress, publicity and re-evaluation within unionism has been achieved through a few Irish language classes on the Newtownards Road. If there is campaign funding to spare, spend it like that."
It is especially gratifying for activists when Unionists learn Irish; they sacrifice nothing of their identity as a result. But Mr. Emerson's words make sense only if a long-term strategy to recruit Unionist learners were the most important thing for Irish, when the key goal is actually to enable existing Irish-speakers to live as much of their lives as possible through the medium of the language — and that requires legislative change now.

Of course, there were those who set their hearts on persuasion on such issues as fair employment during the 50 years of one-party Stormont rule before 1972. One can argue about whether it was the IRA that eventually brought about reform in that area (very likely yes, albeit as an unintended side-effect of a campaign for Irish unity that was a bloody failure).

What one cannot argue about, however, is that it was Westminster that eventually came up with the goods. That may well have to be the case this time around too.

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