Belfast Telegraph

Language row: Let's not waste cash on translations, but don't lose these precious tongues

By Liam Clarke

Personally, I like to hear both Irish and Ulster-Scots spoken from time to time - though understanding them is another matter. Carál Ní Chuilín, the Culture Minister, is right to say the two tongues are "key aspects of our culture, heritage and identity" which should be preserved.

That doesn't mean that it has to be pushed on people at every turn.

The Republic attempted to force the use of Irish by making it compulsory in school exams and the public service and all government documents, from the constitution down, have their original version in Irish with the English version a theoretically less authoritative translation.

This was all accompanied by a decline in both the understanding and the speaking of Irish in the Republic, while it has grown in Northern Ireland. We don't want to go down that road. We should do things differently.

The production of entertainment and educational material and the development of social clubs, where the language must be spoken are all likely to stimulate interest far more than conducting court cases in Irish or paying people to translate Government documents.

There is no doubting Ms Ní Chuilín's sincerity, she is a Gaeilgeoir herself and also wants to give its place to Ulster-Scots. But what does she expect to get?

The DUP has made it quite plain, often in offensive but unmistakable terms, that it will not support an all bells-and-whistles Irish Language Act.

In fact, calling for one at this time is an opportunity for Sinn Fein to show it has not forgotten the issue in the run-up to an election.

The other less pure motive is an employment scheme for droves of translators who want to speak minority languages for a living and cannot otherwise do so. In other words jobs, fabhar le do mhuintir féin (jobs for the boys) at huge public expense and very little benefit to society as a whole.

Nevertheless, the consultation on how to handle these languages is justified. We need to strike a balance between allowing those who wish to pursue minority languages and forcing people to speak them to get a job.

Hopefully, the minister will produce something that everyone will be able to live with and enjoy.

The situation of these two tongues is precarious. It would be easy for enthusiasts to turn other people against them by cracking the whip too hard.

The challenge is to build genuine interest in using them; without that these languages will eventually go the way of Latin.

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