Last night, Sinn Féin leader, Mary Lou McDonald, met with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Brandon Lewis. The British government agreed to legislate for “Acht Gaeilge” or in English, the “Irish Language Act”.
The DUP made a promise to Sinn Féin that they would legislate for an Irish Language Act, but broke their promise, leaving Sinn Féin in a bit of a pickle. As Arlene Foster resigned as DUP leader after she was pushed out by her own party for abstaining on a conversion therapy vote, the DUP had to elect a new leader, Edwin Poots, which required Sinn Féin to nominate a deputy first minister. Sinn Féin decided to hold off on nominating a deputy first minister until the DUP fulfilled their promise.
But of course, politicians keeping their promise? Not a chance! Especially in the political climate in the North. Many unionists feel agreeing to such an act could “destroy” their British identity and culture and it means doing something that “Sinn Féin/Nationalists/Republicans wants”.
I have to admit it was scary, the thought that the assembly could collapse if the DUP did not agree to an Irish Language Act. The people of the North had no government for 3 years in a row and are currently battling a covid19 pandemic. My anger was more at the DUP, who seem to be scared of an Irish language act, which would give the Irish language equal status to English in the region. Wales has a similar act and has reported no problems.
The act would also designate Gaeltacht areas, and give people the right to use Irish in the judicial system, Stormont, public sector services, Irish-medium education and there would be bilingual signage. If anyone watched a NI assembly debate, you would see that many politicians use Irish and yet it hasn’t harmed anyone.
It is quite funny that the country who actually took away our culture and language in the first place, resulting in us speaking English, is now willing to help us but not the Stormont politicians who claim that they “love Northern Ireland and it’s people”. We have to remember that the “people” in the North, comprise of Nationalists, Unionists and those who identify as neither.
If you think it is just Nationalist and Sinn Féin supporters who speak Irish, you are mistaken, many Unionists, despite not wishing to live in a United Ireland, have grá for the language too. Take a look at Linda Ervine, a Unionist Gaeilgeoir and project leader of the “Turas”, which aims to connect people from Protestant communities to their own history with the Irish language. It’s best we stop believing stereotypes, because that is not the reality.
German is not part of my culture but yet I had to learn it and speak it for my Junior Cert and Leaving Cert, so why the reluctance to pass an Irish language act in Stormont? The English language is not going to go away, if you see bilingual signage, you can always just focus on the English part and ignore the Irish translation? If somebody wants to have their name in Irish, who are you to tell them they can’t? What is so scary about a cúpla focail? Why are we only respecting one culture and not the other?
A lot of questions, but it is welcoming that the British government is willing to help, now we must hope that they fulfil their promises