Monday, 27 June 2016

Nature, not Nurture

What with collapsing markets, political parties in turmoil, and the imminent break-up of the UK, it's worth remembering that there are some things that, in the longer run, are much, much more important. One of them is the Irish language, whose bizarre invisibility (or, rather, silence) in the state of which it is the first official language has attracted comment from the President, Michael D. Higgins. Mr. Higgins is of course able to broach the subject only because of the long-standing consensus in the South of Ireland that Irish is something to be cherished. To raise the same issues in the North would be to enter the political arena, from which a non-executive President should be at some remove.

On the other hand, some of the criticisms he has made will sound eerily familiar to those in the business of promoting the language ó thuaidh. One is the difficulty in setting up new schools, particularly at secondary level:
"We all understand the benefits of multilingualism and we have seen a huge increase in the number of parents seeking the gift of bilingualism for their children," Mr Higgins said. "It is clear that the demand exists for more Irish language secondary schools to give these children the opportunity to continue their education through the medium of Irish, and it is only right that they should be able to do so."
Meanwhile, in the North, new Education Minister Peter Weir has turned down a proposal that Gaelscoil an Lonnáin move from its present site on the Falls Road a short hop, skip and a jump to the former St. Comghall's Primary School, citing "sustainability and long-term viability issues".

While Mr. Weir deserves (faint) praise for his recent toe-in-the-water visit to Coláiste Feirste, it seems that he has some way to go when it comes to what President Higgins calls a "lack of goodwill" towards Irish.

And, if you think the Blether Region is being unfair to him, you might not be aware that he has just cut previously promised Nurture funding from Scoil an Droichid and Bunscoil Bheann Mhadagáin despite the schools making considerable investments out of tight budgets on the basis that the money would be forthcoming. Out of all the schools in Northern Ireland, those two Irish-medium schools, many of whose pupils come from deprived communities, were the only ones to be so affected.

Go figure.

Wednesday, 1 June 2016

Things to Come?

Conradh na Gaeilge, responsible for advocacy since the Ní Chuilín reforms, has been granted the right to take the Executive to court for its failure to implement an Irish-language strategy.

Unionist commentator Newton Emerson has already stated that the organisation should win its case but that it will be an "empty victory", since the Executive can continue blithely to ignore the judgment — as it has done, for example, with regard to a much-heralded but equally absent anti-poverty strategy.

That is of course true, although, as the anti-poverty judgment was only a year ago, we cannot know what future action the courts might take. In particular, the theory of the sovereignty of parliaments applies only to Westminster, so the Executive does not enjoy an absolute right to change its mind or overrule anyone: it, and its individual Ministers, are required to comply.

At the end of the day, it may be Westminster that comes up with the strategy, and the related Act, and a court judgment would certainly make prompt action in that regard more likely were Direct Rule ever to come about again.

That may never happen, but with the latest polls showing that Leave is still in with a chance of winning the Brexit vote, it could be quite soon too, since Brexit will almost certainly lead to chaos and political collapse in Northern Ireland.

As an aside, while the Brexit vote is too close to call at a UK level, in Northern Ireland, the answer will most likely fall in favour of Remain. That is of significance both politically, for obvious reasons, and on a more intrinsic demographic and psephological level, since, as far as the Blether Region is aware, it will be the first time that (in this case, more united) Nationalists have outvoted (in this case, more divided) Unionists on anything. While the late Ian Paisley Senior used to claim that a majority of Unionists had voted against the Good Friday / Belfast Agreement, that was almost certainly bluster on his part, since it would have required an impossibly high percentage of Nationalists to have been in favour.

Even if Brexit does not result in blood on the streets (or border lanes) of Ulster, it is highly likely to give Nationalists a further reason for turning out at election time — and just when they are on the brink of a majority. As such, Brexit could be the shape of things to come.