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It's time unionists respected the Irish language

Published 06/03/2010

The nationalist community has real difficulty in understanding why unionism will not recognise, both in spirit and in practice, the importance of the Irish language.

Many Irish language enthuasists have campaigned to have the rich Irish cultural heritage of the north of Ireland recognised, respected and valued.

The Irish language is the shared inheritance of everyone in this part of the world - regardless of political outlook, religious or cultural tradition.

Ulster-Irish and Scots Gaeilge emerged from the same language. The similarities are such that speakers of both can communicate with each other in their own languages.

Whether or not unionists realise it, unionism has inherited a lot from the Irish language tradition in this part of the world - as it has also from the Scots, English and also the Hugenot connections.

The British Government recognised, at least to some extent, the importance of the Irish language in the North of Ireland in both the Good Friday Agreement and in the adoption of part 3 of the European Charter on Regional or Minority Languages. There are also clear guidelines for government departments and local councils on how to deal with their obligations under this legislation.

There are many things that unionists could do to show, in spirit and in practice, that they strive towards being able to accept diversity. Accepting the provisions of the European Charter would be one way.

Certainly this issue is not going to go away simply by unionism ignoring it. A growing section of our community regard the Irish language as a very important aspect of their being.

The new society we are building here requires, and will continue to require, that all our people are treated with dignity and respect.

Unionism needs to adopt a much more magnaminous attitude towards the Irish-speaking community and treat them as equal citizens - not enemies.

PAUL BUTLER (SF)

MLA for Lagan Valley

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