Unionists unite in opposition to push for an Irish Language Act

The protest in support of an Irish Language Act at Storming was organised by An Dream Dearg and other activist groups

As Irish language activists brought their protest for an Irish language act to the steps of Stormont, the three main unionist parties stressed that sufficient protection was already in place.

Friday’s protest follows an open letter earlier this week, signed by 200 civic, political and sporting figures and published in the Irish News, calling on both the UK and Irish prime ministers to take “resolute action” on Irish language.

The Ulster Unionists, DUP and TUV have all spoken out against having further legal obligations placed on public bodies in terms of making provision for Northern Ireland’s small number of Irish speakers.

Immediately following yesterday’s protest, a DUP spokesman said: “We recognise that Irish is important to some people but schools and hospitals matter to everyone. That’s why Sinn Fein should lift their blockade of the Assembly so we can progress issues which matter to everyone.”

The spokesman added: “The Irish language is already supported through public funds. Irish culture and language should not be elevated above any other culture in NI. We want a fair and balanced deal.”

Doug Beattie of the UUP said his party has “respect” for the language and its cultural contribution, and added: “It is part of our shared culture and identity and should be respected and cherished.”

However, he added: “All commitments under the Belfast Agreement have been met. Nobody is prevented from learning and speaking Irish and it is well provided for in terms of public funding. We do not believe there is the need for an Irish language act but that does not mean we do not support the language community.”

The TUV is also opposed to new legislation, with a spokesman saying that “Northern Ireland already provides Irish medium schooling at a cost to the public purse of £20m per year”.

He said the republican call for “equality” has already been shown to be “the Trojan horse of the entire republican strategy,” and added: “There would be discrimination against non-Irish speakers when it came to employment, particularly in the legal profession and civil service.”

Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill said the message of a growing demand for an Irish language act was being heard “loud and clear”.

The party’s NI leader said: “Sinn Fein will continue to support the campaign for an Acht Gaeilge which includes rights and legal protections for Irish speakers in the north, just as exists elsewhere on these islands.”

With many thanks to the: Belfast News Letter and Mark Rainey for the original story

International body backs Irish language role

Graffiti in Belfast calling for an Irish Language Act

Language commissioners from six countries have supported a similar role being established in the North of Ireland.

Members of the International Association of Language Commissioners voiced their support in a letter to the Irish language organisation, Conradh na Gaeilge.

An Irish language commissioner was a key feature of previous proposals for an Irish language act.

However, the proposals have been politically contentious.

Language laws ‘strengthen not threaten’
The power of words
Both main unionist parties have opposed a standalone act, but other parties have supported calls for one.

The International Association of Language Commissioners is an umbrella body for language commissioners in a number of countries.

Eleven commissioners from Canada, Spain, Wales, Ireland, Kosovo and Belgium have signed the letter of support.

Five of the signatories are from regions of Canada, while both the Basque and Catalonian language commissioners from Spain have put their name to the letter.

Police standards
The principal role of an Irish language commissioner would be to promote and facilitate the use of the language.

They would also police the standards required of public sector bodies in delivering services in Irish.

The letter said that language commissioners brought many advantages.

“In our view language commissioners can be central in the protection and preservation of a language that is spoken by a minority,” it read.

Dr Niall Comer, from Conradh na Gaeilge, said that independent commissioners were vital in protecting language rights.

“Language rights and rights-based legislation are afforded to minority and indigenous language communities across these islands and indeed across the world,” he said.

“If anything we are the anomaly.”

A working group on rights, languages and identity has been established as part of the ongoing talks between the political parties at Stormont.

With many thanks to: BBCNI and Robbie Meredith NI Education Correspondent for the original story

Related Topics
Stormont stalemate

They say it takes one to know one

I have been an “Irish Language Activist” since I was in my early teens and have been full-time since about 2010 or so, so I could claim to “know” one if I met one.
My sister, Dr. Anne McCloskey, who was recently elected onto Derry/Strabane council is the absolute opposite of “gníomhaí Gaeilge”, as she claimed in her election manifesto.
I can verify this by relating my experiences.
As stated in the same manifesto, she was/is on the committees of “An GaelÁras” and Coiste an Ghrianáin in Derry.
What nobody else on this earth knew until now, however, is what she told me of her being on the committee of An GaelÁras: that it was on condition that she did nothing. Her name and title looked good on the many grant applications…
Neither did she do anything for Coiste an Ghrianáin, if you leave out the fact that she destroyed my character there as well as anywhere else I looked for support in my genuine voluntary work for this oppressed community.
When I noted that I couldn’t even get service in Irish in An GaelÁras, she almost jumped down my throat with: “Sure, nobody speaks that language” and I have never ever been in Irish-speaking company with her that she didn’t change the language as quickly as she could to English.
She has poisoned every well I have ever gone to for support for my life’s work, the most recent poisoning being in the form of a malicious rumour, circulated here in Gaoth Dobhair and elsewhere, that I have been a regular patient in Derry’s psychiatric hospital. This slander was not used in Derry, as it would not be believed there. It came to my knowledge as coming from another “councillor” here in west Donegal who peddles a similar line of bullshit and who is in regular contact with the good doctor.
This is a short summary of a very long history of Anti-Irish-language vandalism which I am quite prepared to give a full account of in the interests of the community I try to serve.
If what I relate here can be described as Irish-Language Activism, I ‘m a Thatcherite.
And this is but the tip of a very sordid iceberg.
The media, the British “representative democracy” system and the liar are powerful enemies of true democracy which needs truthful and complete information to be just; the decisions taken must then be implemented by people of integrity and dedication.
These type of people are totally shut out from the dictatorship by the rich that still relentlessly poisons our Nation behind the mask of false information and the blackest of lies.
Proinsias Mac Bhloscaidh.

With many thanks to: Frankie Jimmy for the original story

Twenty years after the Good Friday Agreement, the Irish language sector is in better health than ever

In spite of suffering budget cuts of 25% over the past decade, Foras na Gaeilge, the all-island language body, says Irish has never had a higher profile

A protest at Stormont in February last year in favour of an Irish Language Act


Twenty years on from the Belfast Agreement that resulted in the establishment of Foras na Gaeilge, the all-island Irish language body, the Irish language landscape in the north has changed radically.

The Irish language revival in the 1980s and 1990s in the north was primarily focused on Irish-medium immersion schools, and few sources of state funding existed to support fledgling language initiatives emerging where Irish-medium schools had been established.

The Belfast Agreement recognised that Irish was a key dimension in the peace process and the establishment of Foras na Gaeilge transformed the landscape.

It legitimised support for Irish and, through the establishment of Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta and Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaiochta, regularised support for Irish-medium education.

Foras na Gaeilge and these two Irish-medium schools’ bodies provided government in the north with a way to fund and support Irish.

In the early years following its establishment, Foras na Gaeilge established several community-based language initiatives that provided a framework and infrastructure for the development of Irish.

Most of these were community initiatives, conceived and maintained through high levels of voluntary commitment and, while impressive in terms of their achievement, were unsustainable in the longer term without state funding.

They included Culturlann McAdam O Fiaich in west Belfast; an Gaelaras, now Culturlann Ui Chanain in Derry; and Raidio Failte, the community radio station in Belfast, now housed in new, purpose-built premises on Divis Street.

The creation of the all-island organisation ensured funding and long-term sustainability for these and other projects.

Foras na Gaeilge also provided much-needed funding for several small, voluntary Irish language organisations previously maintained through goodwill and very meagre resources. These were able to flourish with annual funding from Foras na Gaeilge.

While funding for these projects was welcomed, providing a boost to the language, there was little evidence of coherent language planning in the design of the funding structures, or in the initiatives that initially emerged.

Foras na Gaeilge essentially funded organisations that demonstrated the ability to manage funding efficiently and good corporate governance structures.

No formal analysis of the needs of the language or the language communities in either jurisdiction preceded the establishment of the Belfast Agreement language structures. As a result Foras na Gaeilge became the vehicle for governments to streamline ad hoc funding arrangements and, in the early years following its establishment, both governments transferred several previously funded language projects to Foras na Gaeilge.

With an eye to expedience, this was done with little reference to language planning or to the needs of language communities.

Foras na Gaeilge thus inherited responsibility for as many as 19 Irish language organisations and several language initiatives. In some cases organisations had similar aims and objectives and competed with each other.

The Irish language sector was a disorganised one and little cognisance was taken of the potential advantages of cross-border approaches or economies of scale. In subsequent years Foras na Gaeilge’s analysis of the needs of language communities, coupled with strategic planning on the part of both governments, began a focus on language priorities – an approach based on language-planning rationale, rather than ad hoc initiatives. This welcome departure unfortunately coincided with the economic downturn.

Cuts in funding by both governments following the economic collapse in the south, and reductions in public funding in the north, resulted in Foras na Gaeilge’s funding being cut by around £5m since 2008, a reduction of around 25%.

Notwithstanding the inevitable pressures that come with such a reduction in funding, the Irish language landscape in the north has continued to develop.

Foras na Gaeilge now funds language development officers in 14 different communities in the north to support their Irish-medium school communities.

Foras na Gaeilge funds new pre-school initiatives. Several communities have developed Irish language childcare projects to support parents raising their families with Irish. A planned, coherent approach has ensured that the Irish-medium organisations Comhairle na Gaelscolaiochta and Iontaobhas na Gaelscolaiochta have been enabled to maximise return on their own investment in the Irish-medium sector.

Foras na Gaeilge’s funding strategy, based on language-planning principles, has allowed the Irish language capital investment fund, An Ciste Infheistiochta, to maximise return on capital investments, where development officers funded by Foras na Gaeilge support capital projects.

Continuing support for staffing in the Culturlanna in Belfast and Derry has allowed those projects to become flagships for language development across the island and become best practice pathfinders for minority language development in the south and abroad.

Staffing support for the community radio station Raidio Failte has allowed it to benefit from Government capital investment and to extend its influence beyond Belfast.

Foras na Gaeilge has developed all-island approaches to several programmes, including funding for summer camps, youth activities, publishing and writers, drama groups, festivals and literary events.

Projects in the north have fared well under this approach. Foras na Gaeilge has also funded staff at An tAisaonad Lan-Ghaeilge, at St Mary’s University College, to produce Irish-medium resources and it facilitates all-Ireland collaboration on Irish-medium classroom resources between the CCEA and the Department of Education and Skills in the south.

In addition to this all-island approach, supporting publishing, online media and Irish-medium resources, our flagship online dictionary and terminology initiatives – focloir.ie and tearma.ie – have served Irish language communities throughout the island well. Language communities benefit irrespective of their location.

The all-island approach, while it has much to commend it from a language-planning perspective, is not Foras na Gaeilge’s only approach.

Our funding programmes for Gaeltacht scholarships for school pupils; our funding for the East Belfast Mission’s Turas project to promote Irish in Protestant/unionist communities; and funding to support development officer posts in local councils are focused on the north only, recognising that these are areas of specific need.

In place of the 19 support organisations once funded by Foras na Gaeilge, it now funds nine organisations. Since 2014, six lead organisations are funded to support the development of Irish in the community throughout the island.

With offices across the country – in Belfast, Armagh, Newry, Meath, Dublin and Galway – these organisations receive a substantial share of Foras na Gaeilge’s budget to develop their capacity in their specific specialisms in a planned, long-term strategy.

The six lead organisations work closely together in partnership, each with a distinct role that addresses specific language needs in the community, with a focus on developing language social networks and community development structures that can be built on over time.

This approach has brought particular dividends is respect of language awareness across the island and particularly in the north, where the Irish language has never had a higher profile in the community and in the media.

Because of the success of these structures and of Foras na Gaeilge’s funding strategy, expectations are rightly increasing in relation to language activities, rights and opportunities.

Funding cuts to the Foras na Gaeilge budget of around 25% in the last 10 years have not been addressed, although demand for funding continues to increase across the country.

Challenges exist and must be addressed by both governments in relation to Irish. Lessons learned illustrate clearly that well-planned approaches based on the strategic needs of the language and the communities wishing to embrace it serve us best.

Sean O Coinn is chief executive of Foras na Gaeilge

With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Sean O Coinn for the original story

We Protestants fear Gaelic, and we were raised to mock it

DUP’s Arlene Foster speaking to the media at Stormont. Richard Irvine feels Foster could have realised that in opposing the Irish language, Northern Protestants are opposing part of themselves. Picture: Niall Carson/PA


Ulster Protestantism associates Gaelic with republicanism, which we oppose, and our cultural insecurity has informed the DUP’s rejection of an Irish Language Act, says Richard Irvine

MY MOTHER hailed from “the Field of the Yew Wood”, Ahogill. She never told me that. No one from that small village (Achadh Eochaille), where I spent each weekend until I was a teenager, ever did. Likely, they didn’t know.

Other things they did know, but never said. My great-grandfather, master of the village Orange lodge and a widower, remarried in his 60s, to a Catholic woman, and his son never spoke to him again.

That son, my grandfather, and later also lodge master, similarly went on to marry a Catholic. Cycling out one Sunday to Carnlough, he met the woman who would be his wife of 30 years. I never once guessed she was raised a Catholic (she converted to Prebyterianism upon betrothal). That knowledge only came long after both their deaths.

No Irish was ever spoken in our house. Or consciously spoken — “craic”, “brogue”, and many another solitary adjectives or nouns slipped through, but I lacked, and still do, knowledge of the etymology. My mum described Irish as that “ould palaver”; my aunt, more brutal, switched off the television whenever Irish was spoken.

The Irish language, for me, was the incomprehensible, the sinister, and the secret.

On holidays in Donegal, my mum muttered of Fenians, when shop assistants addressed her in that ‘ould palaver’. At election time, our arch enemy, Gerry Adams, to the unsuppressed fury of my parents, stumbled and tumbled over its ‘barbaric’ syllables in party political broadcasts. His linguistic audacity added insult to the IRA’s literal injury.

At Queen’s University, in the 1980s, my Protestant brethren were permeated by similarly suppressed outrage at the then bilingual policy of the students’ union. In anger, confusion, and insecurity, we mocked and derided the unpronounceable signs upon the union’s walls. These were inscriptions of disloyalty and exclusion.

In, of all places, the Irish Language Centre, the Culturlann MacAdam O’Fiaich, on the Falls Road, I recall audibly expressing dismay that all of the posters were in Irish. I was overheard, and, unhelpfully, a courteous and confident, and similarly young, man pointed out to me that I could address my ignorance by attending one of their many Irish language classes. He was polite and welcoming. I said nothing, but I was affronted.

And that is the point. The Irish language, to me, and to the vast majority of my peers, was never a real language — rather, it was a treachery, a plot, and a Machiavellian political scheme of the disloyal and the dangerous. And, worst of worst, masquerading under the guise of culture, it assumed a form we could not comfortably call out.

Liberal, open-minded and cultured, we young, university-educated Protestants could embrace music, literature, art, and language from all over the Earth, but could not embrace Irish. Such is the self-mutilating denial of the insecure.

Of course, Irish was never the affront I took it to be. It was my culture that supplanted Irish, burying it in the peremptory administration of imperial bureaucracies and commerce.

I cannot relate to the dislocation and alienation that native speakers must have experienced. I do not know the history of the language. I am told many Protestants were native speakers, too — I have no sense of validation. I have never met a Protestant, native Irish-language speaker.

Yet, I do recognise the loss. I do feel the narrowness of my inheritance; I do hear the fear and calculated disrespect in the scornful mockery of Gregory Campbell’s “Curry my Yoghurt”. I share that fear, too, inculcated before consciousness — part of my job lot of Ulster Protestant identity.

Irish is not my language. I doubt that, in middle-age, I have the energy and tenacity to learn it, and yet it is part of my story, too.

Its denial says too much about the iron fear we Protestants have lived in for too long.

With courage, Democratic Unionist Party leader, Arlene Foster, could have acknowledged this, too. She and her party had the chance to lead and make solid the shallow path forged by Protestant Irish-language activist, Linda Ervine, sister of the late PUP leader, David Ervine.

Like Ervine, Foster could have realised that, in opposing the Irish language, we oppose a part of ourselves. Sadly, she, like so very many of my community, failed to realise that no loss was involved here, nor political horse-trading due.

Lacking any appraisal of value, we saw, in Irish, not a gift and endowment, but a “weaponised” concession in a long “cultural war”.

We saw no language, just republicanism — and we have always opposed that.

A comprehensive Irish Language Act would have enriched and healed us all — restored to us all the poetry that resides in “the Field of the Yew Wood”. Instead, we continue to reside, literally and politically, in the stunted location of a place without translation.

With many thanks to the: Irish Examiner and Richard Irvine for the original story

* Richard Irvine is a Belfast-born teacher and lecturer in English and history. He writes occasional articles on current affairs and has been a commentator for BBCNI.