Friday, 28 November 2014

Tapas Chive?

John McCallister, writing in the Bel-Tel, makes the obvious and very reasonable point that Gregory Campbell's culinary satirisation of Irish might equally well have been applied to Scottish Gaelic (in Argyll, they do indeed say "Gun robh math agad", though the Blether Region is not aware of how they like their yoghurt).

Scottish Gaelic (in Northern Ireland known as "Scots Gaylick") is of course not particularly associated with Nationalism, and a substantial minority of its speakers stand out because of their adherence to the tenets of the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland, a staunchly Protestant sect whose name presumably inspired Rev. Ian Paisley when he founded his own Free Presbyterian Church. Indeed, anyone with an ounce of knowledge of Scottish history will recognise Campbell (Caimbeul, or "twisted mouth") as a surname that is as Protestant as it is Gaelic.

A pity that politics seem to have coloured Mr. Campbell's attitude to his own heritage.

Wednesday, 26 November 2014

Equine Outrageous

Gerry Adams's recent comments about "bastards" and "Trojan horses" have attracted widespread comment. It is a fact of life in Northern Ireland, and of politics everywhere, that quite a lot of the people consider quite a lot of their elected representatives bastards quite a lot of the time. Indeed, that would apply as much to Gerry Adams himself as to anyone else. In this case, it seems clear enough that he was referring to Gregory Campbell and people like him rather than Unionists in general. Many Irish-speakers and Catholics, the overt and covert targets of Mr. Campbell's childishness, will share that view — even if they may well think it peculiarly impolitic to air it in public.

On the other hand, it is difficult to find any excuse for Mr. Adams's comments about the pursuit of equality being a "Trojan horse" intended to "break" his opponents. Surely equality should be sought by and for everyone whatever their background, even if they have trouble agreeing about what that might actually constitute. The phrase is also alarmingly reminiscent of Unionist criticism of the civil rights movement at the start of the Troubles. The only potential mitigating factor that the Blether Region can think of is that Mr. Adams may have been trying to assuage dissident Republican sentiment through martial hyperbole. Whatever the truth, it seems certain that the phrase, like "bullet in the freedom struggle" before it, will be used against Nationalist Irish-speakers for many years to come.

As an aside, the Blether Region recalls that 20 years or so ago the Conservative Prime Minister John Major made similar "bastard" comments about the Eurosceptics in his own party. At that time, the BBC was quite content to write out the offending word in full. Not so on this occasion, and one cannot but consider the resulting splay of asterisks a bizarre concession to prissy evangelicals and their topsy-turvy concerns.

Monday, 24 November 2014

Parity of Esteem or Parity of Outcome?

The Guardian has an interesting article on the unfortunate Gregory Campbell, who has evidently received plausible death threats after compounding his "curry my yoghurt" comments at the St. Trinian's Annual Jamboree (sorry, DUP conference).

In both the strapline and the text, it states that an Irish Language Act would give "Gaelic" (by which the Blether Region assumes that the Grauniad means the Irish variety) equal status to English. There are in fact many ways in which Irish could be promoted short of equal status to English. The Irish-language community would favour a rights-based Act, while the probable compromise would be something more akin to the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, which promotes Scottish Gaelic through a national plan.

The proposals from Pobal, probably much stronger than any final Act, mention "equal validity", "resolute action" to promote the language, and providing services "to the maximum extent practicable". That doesn't sound like equal status to the Blether Region — and it may scare off some more moderate Protestants to suggest otherwise.

Fredome is a Noble Thing

Wee Ginger Dug has a guest post from Clear Contrair Spirit over on his blog.

While Northern Ireland produces huge numbers of informed and motivated people when it comes to Irish, one is struck again and again that Scotland simply has a better class of activist when it comes to Scots, including those whose motivation is avowedly as much political as cultural. Issues of class, nation and both internal and external hybridity are clearly and concisely dealt with in the piece, as is the nexus between linguistic and political nationalism, which in Wales, Spirit rightly points out, has proven as limiting as it is inspirational.

Just one wee point, though. We are told that the Scots word for independence is "unthirldom". That's as may be, but is it actually a word?

A Break with History

The Irish Times reports on a court case involving the Irish Revenue Commissioners, who have been taken to task over sending out leaflets in English only, despite having a statutory duty to communicate with the public bilingually.

That of course comes as no surprise, since much of the Republic's support for Irish is little more than lip-service (perhaps small wonder given the fact that Bunreacht na hÉireann contains so many provisions not only unenforced but incapable of enforcement). What is perhaps more shocking is the brazen sophistry with which the Revenue Commissioners' barrister is defending the case.
"Ben Ó Floinn, for Revenue, said the parcels sent to 1.7 million households last year were not communications with the public in general because each information parcel was addressed to a specific citizen, whose name was written clearly on the envelope along with the words 'Private and Confidential'."
Ultimately some of that brazenness may owe something to the fact that Fine Gael are in power, the party that in the late 1970s removed the requirement for civil servants to have Irish (and therefore, among other things, to be able to communicate with the public bilingually), a setback from which the language has never recovered. More recently, it even attempted to make Irish an optional subject at secondary school (while English, presumably, would have remained compulsory).

In recent months senior Fine Gael politicians past and present have argued that the Easter Rising was unnecessary and counterproductive, its participants traitors to the Irish people. Like many aspects of Irish history, that is eminently debatable. What is not debatable, however, is that the vast majority of the generation that founded the State, including both sides in the Civil War and moderate Anglicans such as Douglas Hyde, considered the Irish language an awful lot more important than Fine Gael in 2014.

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.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

"Curry My Yoghurt"

Those watching the news or reading the papers over the last few days will have been treated to the unedifying spectacle of a former Executive Minister trotting out carefully crafted gibberish in order to disparage the language responsible for his own surname. In fact, Gregory Campbell even managed to fluff his self-penned lines (perhaps an unsurprising slip, given that he has such little regard for practical linguists).

Once upon a time it would have been acceptable to attack someone's religion in a similar fashion, and a lasting reminder of such tactics still adorns English in the form of "hocus pocus" ("hoc est corpus"). Nowadays, of course, new coinages at least are a no-no, but, given the existence of clearly understood cultural packages in Northern Ireland, for the incorrigible chauvinist language can be an attractive point-scoring proxy — like criticising someone's huge trousers because you're not allowed to call them fat. Mr. Gregory's culinary bent in that respect has form. For many years, sectarian wags have referred to Irish Gaelic as "garlic", which sums up many of the things they hate: middle-class Ulster-British pretension; cosmopolitanism; and Catholic southern Europe. It's unlikely that he could have got away with treating the language of an ethnic minority in the same fashion, although had he done so, a DUP petition of concern would no doubt have been mobilised to protect him.

Later, after suffering a day's speaking ban at a time when he was in any case away in London, Mr. Campbell appeared on UTV Live and, when Caitríona Ruane was interviewed in the main studio, feigned the involuntary whistle of a bad sleeper. Embarrassingly for Northern Ireland and the DUP in particular, such schoolboy behaviour will have done the 61-year-old no harm whatsoever with the voters. Indeed, like many an instance of forthright sectarian banter, it will merely have underlined how very different Northern Ireland is from Wales and, in particular, Scotland, with which many Protestants claim a special bond. Among the politicians of those countries, autochthonous Celtic languages enjoy overwhelming support or at least lip-service.

But why did Mr. Campbell wait until now before expressing such "long overdue" thoughts on Irish? It is true that it happened when discussing an Assembly Question on the language, and that is no doubt a factor. However, the Blether Region suspects that it is also because there is a Westminster election coming up and the DUP would like Protestants to forget that in 2007 it willingly entered a coalition with Sinn Féin.

They must think folk are stupid.