The DUP and The Irish Language Act

Having just literally laughed out loud at Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams trolling of “see you later alligator” in response to Arlene Foster’s comments regarding whether the DUP should have conceded on the Irish Language Act, one cannot help but feel disdain at the pettiness of her spoken words “…that is not how I do business”.

As some of the readers of this article may know, I’ve lived in Brussels for several years now. Moving here has been both a blessing and a curse for different reasons. One of the blessings most certainly was making friends with many other Irish people and becoming a member of the local Irish community here in the EU capital. However, my ‘Irishness’ sometimes feels a little different from theirs, as most Irish people here in Brussels are from down South, us Northern Irish are few and far between. Don’t get me wrong, as being a born a Nationalist in West Belfast, I feel as though my rebel spirit is stronger than my Southern counterparts and being ‘Irish’ means more to me because I don’t take it for granted, our community had to fight for the right to be Irish.

There has been occasions though when I couldn’t rival my Southern counterparts at all when it comes to being Irish, one being knowledgeable in Irish sports such as Hurling and Gaelic Football. Although the GAA is very present in Northern Ireland, particularly in rural communities, the presence of the GAA is 20 times stronger if not more down South. The second thing in which I somehow feel stunted in my ‘Irishness’ is my lack of ability to speak the true mother tongue of our island, Gaeilge.

I did do Irish classes throughout high school, in fact it was the only language I ever studied in my formal education. I of course grew up in a household where the adults in the family were trying to learn it through community classes as well; therefore, basic phrases like ‘Dún an doras’, ‘Cad é mar atá tu?’ and being able to say where I’m from and what colour my hair was have always stayed with me. When I’m back home in Belfast and doing a bit of shopping in town, I always walk by Madden’s Bar on Berry Street. The frontage of Madden’s Bar has the painted message of “Is fearr Gaeilge bhriste, ná Béarla cliste – Broken Irish is better than clever English”. I smile every time I see it.

However, I envy those that can speak the beautiful language so fluently, as if it’s always belonged to them, that the anglicised history of the island has somehow not touched them.

Therefore, when seeing the video footage of Arlene Foster today at the DUP’s election campaign in their bible belt heartland, it was obvious that she was spewing her bigotry to rile up support from hard-line Unionists to deflect from her own alleged corruption and incompetence. So, what better way to do this but to degrade and minimize the importance of a language that so many within the region of Northern Ireland speak or wish to speak. “If you feed a crocodile it will keep coming back for more” – heaven forbid Arlene if you learnt the word compromise.

But what Arlene and her ilk are forgetting is that they signed up to the 2006 St. Andrew’s Agreement which states “…Government would introduce an Irish Language Act reflecting on the experience of Wales and Ireland and work with the incoming Executive to enhance and protect the development of the Irish language”. The St. Andrew’s Agreement was also signed by both the British and Irish governments, and it has been interpreted that it is the responsibility of the British government to pass an Irish Language Act, or at least a language strategy. However, after devolution, would this not mean that the responsibility now lies with the Northern Ireland Executive as language policy is within their means? Although the DUP may have never agreed specifically to an Irish Language Act, saying this is a bit of a pedantic argument. There was a clear expectation that the Irish language would be respected and promoted while in power-sharing. The trade-off was that Ulster-Scots would receive similar treatment. You can’t pick and choose what just suits you from an agreement – it’s all about give and take.

What we’ve seen in the last few years, especially since Arlene took the reigns as First Minister, is that the DUP do not care about anything that is related to ‘Irishness’ or Gaelic, in fact there is a sense of loathing hatred towards it. From changing boat names, to cutting funding designated to the Irish language scheme (which was reversed due to backlash), snubbing cultural and sporting events, and even going as far to make a mockery of the language within the assembly. It only highlights that they want to appease their own supporters, a group of people who are inherently insecure regarding their own sense of identity; therefore, like any bully they feel the need to put others down to make themselves feel better.

However, Arlene and the DUP may come soon to regret their behaviour. Their arrogance in manipulating the ‘petition of concern’ clause for blocking same-sex marriage, callously ignoring the majority vote to ‘remain’ within the EU here in Northern Ireland, snubbing relations with the Irish government on many occasions, and the botched RHI ‘cash for ash’ scheme which has let them, their family and neighbours line their pockets at the expense of the tax-payer while refusing to take responsibility – even as going as far to play the misogyny card to deflect from Arlene’s little mishap.

There is a growing mood of discontent amongst the Nationalist community with the status-quo in Northern Ireland. Many moderate Nationalists are now considering voting for Sinn Féin this election on March 2nd 2017, something many of them have never done, but are willing to do so because their dislike for Sinn Féin is nothing compared to their outrage towards the DUP. It is unfortunate that tactical ‘green’ politics may be the only way to remove the DUP from their orange throne.

In my last visit back home, I also noticed a growing rise in sentiment towards the Irish identity within Northern Ireland. Somehow the DUP’s abuse and mistreatment towards anything ‘Irish’, along with the imminent withdrawal of Britain from the EU with a potential hard-border between the North and the South of Ireland, has somehow stirred up old passions for Republicanism and Irish Unity. What’s even more surprising is that it is cross-generational. My mother’s generation who had grown-up in the thick of the Troubles were content with how things were going for the most part in Northern Ireland, the odd complaint was said here and there but “…anything is better than how it was”. My own generation, the millennials, may not have experienced the full-brunt of the Troubles but we’ve lived with the consequences. Yes, things are better than how they were in the sense that violence no longer prevails; however, a cultural and political war of green and orange has proceeded it.

The 2011 UK Census shows that 184,898 people in Northern Ireland have some knowledge of Irish, of whom 104,943 can speak the language to varying degrees, whilst 4,130 people use Irish as their main language at home. What Arlene and the DUP do not realise is that by alienating a large section of the community in Northern Ireland who class themselves as Irish and pursue cultural traits that relate to that identity, they are sealing their own doomed fate. When summing everything up, the phrase ‘don’t look a gift horse in the mouth’ comes to mind, or should I say crocodile?

Slán Leat

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