Friday, 22 April 2016

Let's Abolish Football

Bella Caledonia is featuring screenshots of the kind of embarrassing ignorance displayed by Scottish people with keyboards when linguistic diversity takes them outside their wonted comfort zone. The occasion was Gaelic Twitter Day, or rather, the contribution to Gaelic Twitter Day made by the Scottish Football Association (SFA).

The complaints seemed to focus on three particular, and baseless, accusations: 1) that the use of Gaelic on Twitter cost money (if it did, it would have been something less than the price of a packet of Quavers); 2) that the initiative was a sop to Nationalist politics (speakers of Gaelic in Scotland are still generally of the traditional kind, and their politics comes in all forms); and 3) most bizarrely of all, that it was a deliberate slight to the Queen, who celebrated her 90th birthday on the same day (in fact, Gaelic Twitter Day is aligned to Frisian Twitter Day in the Netherlands, while the Queen counts many Gaelic-speaking Kings of Scots among her ancestors and during a recent visit to Ireland was herself heard to use a few words of its Irish sister-language; indeed, her son Prince Charles even read out a Gaelic translation of his children's book on television).

Clearly we have a long way to go in encouraging respect for Gaelic and Scots. Regarding those who made the comments, perhaps the Blether Region might be permitted the following observations:

1) The fact that Scotland has never been monolingual, and that the farther back in time one goes, the more multilingual it becomes, means that cultural nationalism is not what it is in Wales or even Ireland. Having more than one national language is a good thing, but we have to take the rough with the smooth.

2) Some of those commenting — certain of the Rangers fans — may have been doing so from a perspective of Northern Irish rather than Scottish politics (one was called "Thiepval Wood"). Indeed, they may even have been labouring under the impression that contemporary Scottish Gaelic is a "Catholic" language (it is overwhelmingly Protestant), or that the tongue being used was Irish. You see, there's really no beginning to their sophistication.

3) Although, in party-political terms, Scotland has a much better class of Unionist than Northern Ireland and is socially stable as a result, in recent months some of them, perhaps in desperation, have been furiously trying to link Gaelic with Nationalism. They should stop making plonkers of themselves.

4) Football is an embarrassment to Scotland. As well as being the last bastion of sectarianism (which in this case seems to have intersected with anti-Gaelic prejudice), it plays a major role in keeping our news services pish and succeeds in attracting far too many folk who are a bit thick. Let's ban it. Offended? Well, it's a good deal less offensive than trying to ban Gaelic.

Monday, 18 April 2016

Post-apocalyptic IME

Regardless of whether the DUP's hints that it might take the education portfolio next time d'Hondt is triggered are bluff intended to scare Sinn Féin off taking DFP, most folk will surely agree that such bluff can only be guaranteed to work out as planned with two parties involved, i.e. if more than one Unionist party wishes to make education a priority, with all the attendant competition the chances of the Department going to Nationalists are vastly reduced.

It is somewhat worrisome, therefore, that the UUP too is now making noises about taking education. Of course, it is something of a moot point whether the party will be in the Executive at all or assume the mantle of a formal opposition (in practical terms, to the DUP). However, it is clear that if Sinn Féin wishes to retain control of the Department, it must take it first, regardless of whether it is the largest party (the Blether Region expects that it will in any case take another five years at least for that to happen).

For an idea of what a Department of Education run by Unionist ultras might look like, see Slugger O'Toole today.

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.

Monday, 4 April 2016

Ready for a Coort

The BBC reports that Conradh na Gaeilge is to take the Northern Ireland Executive to court over its refusal to countenance not only an Irish language Act but an Irish language strategy.

The move is potentially significant because it comes not from a Northern group such as Pobal but from the Gaelic League itself, which has traditionally enjoyed a close relationship with the powers that be in Dublin and under recent reforms instituted by DCAL Minister Carál Ní Chuilín now has a quasi-statutory role in the North.

While the organisation laments the absence of a strategy, some of the measures listed — in particular bilingual courts — would clearly necessitate the amendment or repeal of primary legislation, and thus involve an Irish language Act.

A similarly meaty reform would be to enshrine in law the right to Irish-medium education, a change now being made for Gaelic in Scotland. As one way in which Unionists could attack Irish would be to change the criteria for recognising schools following the forthcoming Assembly elections, the reform could provide a defence against such steps. As an aside, the fact that one of the DUP's five key goals for the next Assembly mandate concerns education strongly suggests that it wishes to take the education portfolio.

Of course, the mere winning of a court case against a Minister may not immediatelyor at all — result in change, but it increases the pressure to bring Northern Ireland into line with everywhere else.

Although full-blown Unionists will continue to bluster, one side-effect of a judgment might be to push the Alliance Party into supporting an Act. After all, it is the rankest hypocrisy to rail against the Executive for not producing a racism or anti-sectarian strategy while blocking an Irish language Act inspired by the same concerns for equality and inclusion and already agreed to by the UK Government.