Belfast Telegraph

SF are very keen on equality... so how come they think that they’re more equal than everyone else?

There’s outcry at public funds to upgrade Orange halls, but not a cheep about cash for Gaelic

By Nelson McCausland

The agreement between the DUP and the Conservative and Unionist Party is good for the United Kingdom, providing stability as we enter the Brexit negotiations and protecting pensions for senior citizens throughout the UK.

It is also good for Northern Ireland, with significant investment in infrastructure, and it was a success for the negotiators of the DUP.

Coming as it did after a very successful election, it has strengthened the position of the DUP and of its leader Arlene Foster. This time it is Sinn Fein leader Michelle O’Neill who is on the back foot.

The focus has now returned to Stormont and, as I write this article, those negotiations are ongoing.

One of the main issues has been the Sinn Fein demand for a strong and free-standing Irish Language Act. In many ways this is a legacy of the Anglo-Irish Agreement and the Belfast Agreement.

Successive Westminster governments have pandered to the cultural demands of Sinn Fein, as far back as the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985.

It referred to “the cultural heritage of both traditions”, but, in practice, the only beneficiary was Irish cultural nationalism.

Along with many other unionists, I protested against that undemocratic Agreement, but while we were protesting outside Maryfield, officials from Dublin, who were inside the Maryfield secretariat, were pushing for concessions and commitments on Irish Gaelic.

The year of the Anglo-Irish Agreement was also the year in which the Provisionals murdered a Roman Catholic prison officer as he went to Mass in Armagh and an RUC officer as he went to Mass in Fermanagh. It was also the year in which nine RUC officers were killed in an IRA mortar attack in Newry.

At the same time the Northern Ireland Office was working out what could be done to bolster the SDLP, who were under pressure from Sinn Fein, and Dublin was proposing commitments to the development of Irish Gaelic as a way to help the SDLP.

When it came to the Belfast Agreement in 1998, the Northern Ireland Office considered whether to make concessions on Irish early in the negotiations to draw Sinn Fein in, or to keep them to the end in order to get Sinn Fein over the line.

As a result, the Belfast Agreement contained commitments on Irish language broadcasting and Irish-medium schools.

Those commitments came as a result of demands from Sinn Fein and the Agreement created cultural inequality and discrimination, with preferential treatment for an Irish cultural tradition.

Moreover, that discrimination was embedded in an international agreement and in legislation.

Since then, Sinn Fein has made more and more demands and a later Labour government handed over £20m for Irish, including £8m for a capital fund to build Irish language cultural centres.

This will draw in as much as £16m of matching money and enable the fund to deliver as many as 20 Irish cultural centres.

This was a Sinn Fein initiative, and the chief executive of the fund is Gearoid O hEara, a senior member of Sinn Fein.

Bit by bit, the political pressure of Sinn Fein has delivered the pieces of the jigsaw as the Irish language sector moves towards its vision for the future.

Meanwhile, the cultural inequality has increased as a result of those earlier commitments in the Belfast Agreement and further concessions from Gordon Brown.

There was an outcry from the SDLP, Sinn Fein and the Irish News when some money went towards upgrading several Orange halls that were being used as cultural centres, and yet not a word of complaint from them when Irish language cultural centres were handed 10 times as much. So, whatever emerges from negotiations about language and culture, unionists will be looking to see what it does to end that iniquitous inequality.

Every day I pass Sinn Fein posters from the last election with a demand for “equality”, but it seems that, in the world of Sinn Fein and in the words of George Orwell, “some are more equal than others”.

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