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Forcing people to learn Irish will prove to be divisive

I am not a linguist, but I found Claire Harrison's column (Life, February 26) summed up a widespread view regarding the overt politicisation of the Irish language.

We should be in no doubt that the Irish language is, of itself, a good and important thing. It is, after all, all around us.

Learning a language, like learning a musical instrument, is best done in childhood (but remains open to determined adults) and is a great discipline which takes hard work and practice, but delivers clear rewards.

With regard to Irish, it appears that the Liofa campaign has been a great success. It is worth emphasising, however, why it has been a great success.

What it has done is to open up the language to those with an interest in it, while not forcing it on those who genuinely take little, or no, interest.

Sadly, this is not the approach being adopted by some politicians with regard to an Irish Language Act, which they are promoting as something which would impose the language at great cost.

That cost would not just be monetary; it would also turn the language from something which could be part of a shared heritage into an expensive and divisive thing. That is not the future we should be seeking for Irish (or any other language).

I have no objection to an Irish Language Act which is cost-neutral and serves to emphasise the potential of the language in the education system while outlining departments' statutory duties. That would clarify that the language is held in high esteem in Northern Ireland and ensure its ongoing growth.

However, pursuing enforcement and imposition at great expense to those who genuinely take no interest in it will only prove damaging.

CLLR PAULA BRADSHAW (Alliance)

Belfast City Council

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