Belfast Telegraph

Gregory Campbell's Irish language comments: David Cameron mocking Scots Gaelic speakers during referendum would be unthinkable

By John McCallister

Perhaps nothing indicates the gulf between the norms of politics in the rest of the UK and here than Labour's former shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry having to leave the shadow cabinet because of her recent patronising tweet, and Gregory Campbell's performance at the DUP conference last weekend.

Now, let's be clear. The issue is not the Irish language: the issue is the language of respect. Irish language speakers are a minority in the United Kingdom - yes, a small minority. But we all belong to minorities. I'm a Presbyterian. Presbyterians are a minority. I'm Northern Irish - also a minority in the United Kingdom.

I don't want everybody to be like me. Respect is about basic courtesies to people who are different. Making patronising, offensive jokes about people's identity is discourteous - whether the person making the comments is Emily Thornberry or Gregory Campbell. Or Gerry Adams.

Is his comment not more offensive than Gregory Campbell's comments? Yes, it is. To be blunt, however, I don't really expect much from Adams. Looking back over his career, it is littered with both deeply offensive comments and morally wrong actions.

Imagine if during the Scottish referendum, David Cameron had publicly mocked speakers of Scots Gaelic. It's absolutely unthinkable that he would have done so. The Prime Minister believes in the Union. And he knows that the Union is about embracing difference; that it is about ensuring both the Scots Gaelic speaker and the Home Counties resident can call the United Kingdom home.

This is what also offends me about Gregory Campbell's comments. The Sinn Fein lie is that Irish language speakers have no place inside the UK; that the Irish language is an expression of republican identity; that unionism cannot tolerate the Irish language.

In actual fact, the Irish language belongs to all the people of Northern Ireland.

It's a defeatist view of unionism that leads to such conclusions. Irish language - just like Scots Gaelic - is part of the rich cultural diversity of the United Kingdom. Circling tribal wagons does unionism and the United Kingdom a real disservice.

Belfast Telegraph


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