Belfast Telegraph

DUP's Foster right to resist Irish Language Act, says Gaelic academic O Coigligh

By Cate McCurry

A professor of Irish language has pledged his support for the DUP and criticised a proposal for an Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland.

Ciaran O Coigligh, an academic who has lectured in the Irish departments in Galway and Dublin Universities, said that the DUP had been "very generous" in supporting the language over recent years.

Mr O Coigligh (65), who has his own Irish language business and comes from a republican background, hit out at Sinn Fein for what he claimed were attempts to politicise the issue.

The Co Dublin man, who has supported the DUP's Jim Wells through his recent court battles, joined the South Down candidate while out canvassing last weekend.

Mr O Coigligh contacted the former Health Minister to offer his support after he was wrongly accused of making homophobic statements during a hustings event.

Mr O Coigligh, who describes himself as a devout Christian, said he had supported the DUP for many years because he shared its views on gay marriage and abortion.

He ruled out the introduction of the Irish Language Act in Northern Ireland, which he said would be a "waste of money".

"I can't understand why people are calling for a Language Act when they haven't in the first instance looked at the absolute waste of money and effort of the Official Languages Act which we have in the Republic of Ireland. It serves no purpose," said the professor.

"The only effect of introducing a Language Act in Northern Ireland is to further alienate loyalist and unionist people."

He claimed there were "huge amounts" of people from the nationalist community who had no ability or knowledge of the Irish language. "I think what the DUP are proposing is that the Irish language is the language of all the people and not to be used by one particular political party, and I agree with that," he added.

"It should be supported on an individual and communal basis."

He went on to say that the number of Irish speakers is "dying" in the Republic.

He said: "People who are of the loyalist or unionist background will not speak the language until they are comfortable or know that they are not in any way supporting a Sinn Fein agenda.

"Unionists won't be encouraged to speak the language through an Act, it will be through classes being offered in their area."

He said he was willing to go to Orange halls or unionist areas to give lectures on the history of the Bible in Irish.

Mr O Coigligh has written three novels, 12 collections of poetry, short stories and also dozens of academic books.

He added that the DUP "deserve to be commended" for what it had done for the Irish language and should be encouraged to do more.

In place of an Irish Language Act, he believes a policy that will be acceptable to Irish speakers and "won't threaten" people from a unionist or loyalist background should be formed.

"Arlene Foster made a very interesting admission recently that she had been to a Catholic school and she has never been exposed to Irish," he said.

"That's the reality for the majority of Catholic and nationalist communities."

The unlikely DUP supporter said that he shared many of Mr Wells' points of view on the "fundamental issues" of everyday political life.

"Nothing has enthused me more than the time I have spent canvassing with the DUP," he claimed.

And he added: "They are wonderful people, and very witty and lovable.

"For a good number of years I have felt the DUP is the only political party on the island of Ireland that reflects my general political attitude and my views on fundamental issues of life, family and marriage."

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