Belfast Telegraph

Irish Language Act could divide our communities, claims Beattie

By Rebecca Black

A former soldier turned Assembly member has said his experiences serving in Bosnia give him major concerns about the impact an Irish Language Act could have on Northern Ireland.

Doug Beattie served with the Royal Irish, reaching the rank of captain and winning the Military Cross before retiring and moving into politics where he was elected as an Ulster Unionist MLA in Upper Bann.

Mr Beattie described seeing in Bosnia what "entrenched divisions along cultural, ethnic and linguistic lines can look like", adding: "I do not wish that for Northern Ireland."

Sinn Fein's demands for an Irish Language Act have so far been one of the main sticking points in political talks to re-establish power-sharing at Stormont, which has been collapsed for more than a year.

Mr Beattie said if an Irish Language Act will see a town centre like Portadown "festooned with dual English and Ulster-Scots signs, while areas such as the Garvaghy Road will be clearly delineated by English and Irish Language signs", it would divide society further.

"My identity and culture is proudly represented by the Union Flag, God Save the Queen, Ulster and Ireland Rugby, Gaelic games, the shamrock, Guinness, St Patrick's Day, Derry and Londonderry, the Sash my father wore, poets and authors, actors and artists as well as Ulster Scots and the Irish Language," he wrote on his Facebook page.

"If I look at all those things that I believe define me, my identity and culture, I find it hard to accept anything that will divide me from those who view themselves differently yet hold many of the same things dear to them.

"The implementation of specific language acts would not be - in my opinion - good for Northern Ireland. The unintentional consequence would be to separate and divide by marking out community territories and boundaries."

Mr Beattie said he felt indigenous languages were a part of his identity or culture, but that an Irish Language Act or an Ulster-Scots Act would be too divisive. "It will separate and it will alienate communities in the exactly the same way as flags or painted kerb stones," he said.

"Language is often bound up with identity, and that is especially true of this society at this point in time. It is unfortunately the case that language has been used by some - if not quite as a weapon - certainly as a tool to divide and exclude, to separate out one section of our society from another."

Mr Beattie warned he did not feel he could support a deal to resurrect Stormont that included a Language Act.

"If any deal to get the Executive and Assembly up and running means our country will become more divided, more sectarian and more unstable, then I cannot support it. Nor can I support an Ulster-Scots Act as some kind of pay-off for an Irish Language Act," he said. "The reality remains that we have spent years trying to bring communities together and I believe what is proposed will merely reinforce division."

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