Tuesday, 13 December 2011

A League of Their Own

Yesterday saw the last Culture AQOs of the year at the Northern Ireland Assembly, with questions on both Ulster Scots and Irish under discussion.

The former, which asked if there would be an Ulster-Scots equivalent to the Líofa campaign to promote acquisition of Irish, elicited a somewhat depressing answer from the Minister, Carál Ní Chuilín.

"I am in discussions with the Ulster-Scots Agency about bringing forward a Líofa-type event, although it will be about heritage and culture rather than language. Those discussions are ongoing. It is really important that whatever is forwarded for sponsorship by my Department has consensus and is a response to community need rather than just a response to something that was done for the Irish language, as it may not work for the Ulster-Scots community. I look forward to seeing those proposals early in the new year."

Of course, we all know that the lack of autonomy evident in Ulster-Scots aping of Irish-language initiatives has been problematic from a dialect-maintenance perspective. But does that really mean that the language element should be excised entirely? The campaign outlined by the Minister, which no doubt originated with the Agency board, might even do more damage, since it could descend into the meaningless political shibboleth of self-designation as an "Ulster-Scot".

The Minister also confirmed that there will be a further round of consultation on a revived Irish Language Bill, as well as separate strategies for Irish and Ulster Scots.

Her answer to Dominic Bradley's request for detail could be seen as rather patronising:

"In all seriousness, I am sure that the Member does not expect me to outline the full proposals during a two-minute question. The proposals for the Irish language Act deserve much more time than that. However, as I said to the Member in a previous Question Time, I am happy to meet him or any other Member on this issue. I believe that the Member is sincere about wanting a robust Irish language Act that is based on rights."

It should be obvious to all that Mr. Bradley is "sincere" about Irish for the simple reason he has learnt it — and was recently put out of the Chamber for the crime of using it to an unacceptable degree. Carál Ní Chuilín, on the other hand, is still in the process of making her speech as Gaelic as her name. Moreover, friends of the Blether Region recently heard a member of her party express understanding for Roy Beggs's cavalier treatment of Mr. Bradley.

While it is true that we don't know if a more robust attitude on the part of Sinn Féin to the discriminatory requirement for consecutive translation in the Chamber would have much effect, part of the reason that we don't know is that we have not yet seen it.

Monday, 5 December 2011

And to you!

UTV reports on the ructions at Belfast City Hall over an Irish-language sign reading "Nollaig Shona Duit", or "Merry Christmas to You".

In this instance, it is probably difficult to divorce Unionists' extreme reaction from the previous week's heated row over the Lord Mayor's reluctance to present a Duke of Edinburgh award to a teenage Army cadet. The Blether Region would have had no problem with the cadet, but might well have balked at appearing to endorse the unproductive xenophobe in whose honour the award was named.

Be that as it may, statements by one councillor, the UUP's David Browne, merit comment:

"I look at the language in the same way as I look at Ulster Scots. It's a foreign language as such like French, German or whatever and if people want to learn how to speak it or want to practice [sic] it — they should pay for it."

In fact, the sign was donated by the Cultúrlann on the Falls Road and represents zero outlay for city ratepayers. Irish-language campaigners have been assiduous in addressing arguments against public use of Irish — something also seen, for example, in the now-shelved plans to have bilingual road signs only in areas where a majority of people support them. The result has of course been to make those who continue to oppose such initiatives look even more unreasonable.

The councillor's comments on Ulster Scots are interesting. Notwithstanding the fact that many people have a genuine interest in the dialect, as a political tool part of its attraction has been its potential to block progress for Irish. Now, it seems, Scots is a "foreign language" — and those many Unionists in County Antrim and elsewhere who speak it presumably foreigners.

UTV further reports that Councillor Browne also termed Irish "gobbledegook". According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word refers to "official, professional, or pretentious verbiage or jargon". Was this a wry comment on the public sector's relationship with Ireland's Celtic tongue? Probably not: it is much more likely that what he meant to say was "gibberish".

The Blether Region has complete understanding for Councillor Browne's wish to concentrate on the lingua franca before attempting Irish or Scots, but need he really enforce that on the rest of us?