Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Narrow-minded morons turned heart-warming gesture into a political football

A PSNI officer was forced to apologise after failing to include Ulster Scots in a multilingual New Year message. He has nothing to be sorry for, says Malachi O'Doherty

The officer behind the multi-lingual message later posted this image

I was going to write this piece in Ulster Scots, since I am a native speaker. Unfortunately, reading it, for most of us, can be a bit like unpicking code.

But I do not take offence – as do others – from the failure of a Newry police officer to send season's greetings on Facebook in Ulster Scots, along with the other languages he did use – English, Irish, Polish, Russian and Lithuanian.

I am, simply, like most people who read his post, heartened by the generosity, inclusiveness and imagination of a decent peeler.

The constable seems to me the very model of the community-minded police officer we need for the mixed and tolerant society we have a slender prospect of evolving into.

However, pressure of abuse from others on social media has put the officer in the position of feeling that he has to apologise. He has now posted a photograph on Facebook of a pair of open hands with the words "I'm Sorry" written on them.

He has nothing to be sorry for. The police officer had, in his own time, compiled a montage of photographs taken around his station, using common objects, like bicycles and step-ladders, traffic cones and reflective clothing, to represent letters of the alphabet and to spell out the words Happy New Year. He didn't need to do any of that.

Then he used Google to find translations for Happy New Year into the languages he encounters on his community beat.

The people who should be hanging their heads in shame are the dimwits who can't see a generous and decent gesture for what it is, but only look for endorsement of their limited political vision.

In short, they see the use of Irish as something for the Taigs and look around for the equivalent something for the Prods. That's what Ulster Scots is for, after all. And they don't find it and feel slighted.

And one can't help but think that there's little that cheers them half as much as a chance to complain that they and their culture have been overlooked, sidelined, reviled and put upon.

Well, for a start, Ulster Scots is not the property of a sectarian faction in Northern Ireland.

It is the rural voice of the forebears of most of us. Unionism and loyalism can no more claim it as their own than republicans can claim Irish.

Both traditions play the same game of trying to reinforce their image as a coherent ethnicity, a separate people struggling to preserve their identity in the face of British imperialism, or the IRA.

It is all hokum. Ye canae pull the wull oer ma ees with a parcel a scheidt like yon.

And there isn't a single reader of this paper, I will bet, who would find this article easier to read if it was written in the revised version of Ulster Scots that is used in Government job ads.

When tweeters claim that the failure to send out a greeting in Ulster Scots to the people of Newry and Mourne is an insult to loyalist, or PUL, community, then they make the mistake of assuming that Ulster Scots is theirs by entitlement as a badge of their cultural and political allegiance. And it isn't.

But they might consider another prospect, too; that the police officer sending greetings was using languages which he had encountered among the people in the communities he serves.

That is his own explanation offered on Facebook: "I included these languages, as there is such a diverse community in Newry & Mourne.

"I used languages that I personally have come across folk that have spoken to me in those languages." He didn't include Ulster Scots, because no-one had spoken to him in it.

Well, if that's the case, maybe the champions of Ulster Scots can see where their efforts to promote the language are falling a bit short.

The police officer also got picked on by people complaining that he shouldn't have used Irish. His answer to that was that he used the languages he has been addressed in by people he deals with.

"...those speaking to u in irish are only doing so to make a political statement!!!", comes the answer and then an effort to be civil and inclusive turns into a political debate instead, redeemed mainly by the police officer himself, apologising over and over again for offences he never intended and by the majority of posters supporting him.

But there wasn't a lot of obvious support from the PSNI, which was declining to comment on suggestions that the officer had been reported to the Police Ombudsman, Dr Michael Maguire. This is a man who takes his job seriously, thinks about the people he deals with, enjoys his work and devotes his own unpaid time to promoting it.

And he didn't do it under his own name for personal credit, but as a contribution to the PSNI's own public relations effort. You would think the PSNI would be proud of him.

You would like to hope that the Heid Yin of the PSNI won't come the gulpin over this and, when faced with the crabbity malice and nitpicking of a shower of whingeing dour-gobbed hallions, will tell them in plain language that they can go and chase themselves.

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