Monday, 15 May 2017

Linguistic Shenanigans: who politicised the Irish language in Ireland?

Céad míle fáilte (a hundred thousand welcomes).

I was struck by a debate on BBC Talkback on 12th May 2017, with Mark Carruthers interviewing the News Letter’s Editor, Ben Lowry about Acht na Gaeilge. The "fear-based" and "rage" outpourings during this radio show prompted me to revisit my thoughts on the wider topic of the language in past and present times.

In a nutshell, Irish people expressing Irish their sense of national identity and Irish culture in a civilised and non-abusive manner does not - and never can - give rise to a British person in Ireland complaining such constitutes "eroding" and "undermining" British identity and culture. In plain language, these type of complaints are just intolerant supremacists throwing a tantrum in a disguised rage against equality.

Firstly, the whole island of Ireland is the native homeland of the Irish nation. Our rich ancient indigenous language, culture and heritage identify us as the unique and distinguishable settled nation we’ve been since long before the English language existed or even a Union of British nations existed.

Secondly, British Unionists must cease framing debates on promotion of Irish identity, culture and heritage as if such were not inalienable native peoples rights. It is not - absolutely not - some type of privilege to be granted by our British colonial overlords. In the DUP's supposed “UK of equals” the Scots and Welsh nations have a unique Act to protect their indigenous language. Why, therefore, are British Unionists even asking native Irish citizens to justify insisting on a similar right – the fact they seek to ensure Irish people are treated as inferior UK citizens is what requires robust probing.

Pursuant to its UN and EU Treaty obligations, the UK government has an obligation to enact legalisation to protect the minority native Irish language within its jurisdiction. Secondly, in the Saint Andrews Agreement between the Irish and British governments, the UK committed to enact an Irish language Act. Thirdly, the High Court in Belfast ruled unlawful the refusal by Stormont to provide even just an Irish language strategy.

We all agreed in our 1998 GFA peace deal to build 'parity of esteem ' within the NI state between British and Irish identities. However, British Unionist politicians have since refused to fully implement this way forward. Why? Well, it seems they oppose genuine equality and parity and realise that native Irish citizens are determined to ensure there's a rebalancing of the dominant anglo-centric society imposed upon Ireland by a culture-destroying colonial Westminster parliament in foreign England.

Tá an tír lena dteanga féin tír a anam féin – a country with its own language is a country with its own soul.

In Germany, China, Russia, France, Spain, Italy and Poland etc, their personal names, their place names, roads and streets are in their indigenous language. Their children are educated in the language indigenous to their native homeland and such nurtures in them a unique sense of self and belonging. This becoming a reality in the North of Ireland seems to terrify insecure British Unionist/Colonialist politicians who reject their birthright Irish identity, preferring to instead cling to some imaginary bond with the people of Great Britain who would cut them adrift in a heartbeat if ever given a vote on the issue - maybe the British in Britain will be afforded a chance to vote on a final Brexit deal that draws a border between the island of Britain and island of Ireland and thereby prove this fact.

Like every Irish Nationalist child who attended a Catholic school, I was taught Irish at school but struggled to ever use it in a public sphere controlled by a British Unionist orange supremacist state. Importantly, in those dark repressive days, the UUP and DUP were overtly hostile to all aspects of Irish identity and culture and Sinn Féin were the only party that bothered to promote these in the public sphere. Thankfully, we Irish have arisen off our knees and stand proudly and resolutely with this goal in mind: we will ensure that a brighter and more enriched future awaits all of our children. I repeat: all of our children.

The overwhelming majority of Irish speakers consistently elect Sinn Féin and the Socialist Democratic Labour Party to represent their interests, and those interests are supported by the wider Nationalist community who elect these parties. Prior to the last election, the DUP insisted it would never agree a new Irish language Act and rejected representations on this by Sinn Féin and the SDLP. This was despite the fact that an Act formed part of the Saint Andrew's Agreement the DUP signed. In March 2017, Sinn Féin came within one seat of being the largest party at the Stormont regional election. Alarmed by this, the DUP leader hastily attended an Irish class in a Catholic school in Armagh (the constituency of Sinn Féin MP Mickey Brady and Megan Fearon MLA who is the party’s spokesperson for children) in what the DUP portrayed as some supposed act of outreach to Irish speakers. In reality, this visit was more a case of the DUP acting as the supremacist Gatekeeper showing its own voters that the DUP would decide who it deemed entitled to represent Irish speakers.

A blind man could detect that we Irish remain the victims of a centuries old ongoing cultural war. Today, this war is being fought by the offspring of those planted here to aid and abet British state evil efforts to eradicate what’s Irish in Ireland and supplant it with what’s English/British. It’s time, British Unionists politicians conceded that politicisation of what’s Irish in Ireland was perpetrated by the British in Ireland i.e a non-Irish/foreign state in Ireland: see its 1367 Statute of Kilkenny; 1695 Foreign Education Act; the Justice Act 1737; the 1831 National Education Act outworkings of a Tally Stick/Bata Scoir used to beat school children who spoke Irish; plus recall the 1921 exclusion of the Irish language, uniquely Irish sports and Irish history from the new NI statelet’s curriculum (to ensure state schools were ‘safe for [British Unionist] Protestant children').

Today, British Unionists aren't using draconian penal laws to attack Irish identity, language and culture. Instead, today the DUP and Orange Order et al use "leprechaun language' and "curry my yogurt" insults and demonise even Irish Protestants for learning or promoting Gaeilge. These British Unionists moreover engage in a series of devious tactics to undermine revival of the Irish language and culture. For instance, they absurdly seek parity between the Gaeilge language with their obscure Ulster-Scots dialect whereas the true comparator is their dominant English language: there isn't a single Ulster-Scots school but growing demand for Gaeilge language schools. Also, Unionists refuse to agree to authorise building of new Irish schools, engage in discriminatory funding of existing cultural projects and conjure bogus ‘costs and economy’ excuses to mask their discriminatory actions and attitude. For instance, they falsely suggest the unit cost the state allocates to educating one child in a Irish bunscoil isn’t precisely the same as allocated to a school teaching the state curriculum in English. They further stupidly contend, teaching the curriculum in non-English is detrimental to building a successful economy in modern day Europe. However, this conniving nonsense ignores that not least German industry was built on its indigenous language and it remains thee most successful economy on this our European continent.

Since the undemocratic creation of the N Ireland statelet in 1921, the majority of British Unionists either raged at, shunned, marginalised, mocked and demonised displays of Irish identity, language, culture and history. Consequently, it's unsurprising that during the 1980s it was once said at a Sinn Féin event: 'Every word of Irish spoken is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom.' To this day, British Unionists perversely cite this one-off remark as the cause of the politicisation of the Irish language. This utterly depraved British Unionist tactic of inverting Irish grievance issues to portray themselves as the aggrieved is not uncommon but no less a gross act of political chicanery.

The most scandalously blind British Unionist deflection nonsense I’ve heard in answer to the above is being told in English: you Irish should stop complaining we occupied your country and be thankful we British defeated the Nazis or you would now be speaking German. In my opinion, what motivates these type of insecure and absurd utterances is concern about "losing" their Afrikaner-like British-in-Ireland sense of superiority and becoming equals with the Irish in Ireland.

British Unionist politicians deny they have a fear-based hatred of the Irish language and Irish culture, and are quick to contend: sure Ireland’s Presbyterian community helped preserve the language. That, however, is pure sophistry. It’s true that a few self-identifying Irish Presbyterians belatedly helped save Irish culture from the near death throes of destruction efforts by the British state. However, here’s the rub. The vast majority of Presbyterians were no less hostile to the Irish language and culture than the vast majority of their British Unionist counterparts in the Anglican, Methodist and other sects of Protestantism and to suggest otherwise is devious myth-making.

As British Unionist Protestant Professor John Brewer observed: Unionists can more readily tell you what they oppose than what they represent. If truth be told, British Unionists in Ireland dread their colonial sense of identity becoming eclipsed if they ceased proactively sustaining their forefathers suppression and opposition toward native Irish identity and culture.

In addition to Ben Lowry’s ‘alarm’ and ‘suspicious’ remarks on the BBC Talkback radio programme there are other striking example of what truly motivates Unionists attitude toward Irish language and culture. For instance, during a 19th February 2015 televised Stephen Nolan show whereon the Irish language was being discussed DUP politician and Orangeman Nelson McCausland oozed insecurity when he alleged that the Irish nation were promoting our indigenous language in order to, supposedly, cause the ‘cultural humiliation of [British] Unionists’, adding he was ‘absolutely… absolutely’ serious.

When you invite British Unionists born in Ireland to describe their ‘British’ sense of identity most struggle. This is unsurprising given it's rejected by most English (67%), Welsh (60%) and Scottish (62%). Many refer to their incessant flag waving and militaristic parading etc. Others seek to claim sole ownership over universal values and common, modern western nation characteristics. To-date, none have convincingly rebutted the central point made by wise Welsh politician Gwynor Evans who opined:

‘What is Britishness… it is another word for Englishness… which extends Englishness over the lives of the Welsh, the Scots and the Irish. If one asks, what the difference is between English culture and British culture ones realises that there is no difference.’

In closing, I leave British Unionist readers in particular with this doubly telling remark from their English former master Winston Churchill who at least understood the spirit of we Irish would never be crushed:

Oscail an doras go saol eile, léigh leabhar Gaeilge – Open the door to another world, read an Irish language book!


P.s The original version of this blog post was published by me on Sunday 14th May on Jude Collins website.

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