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Language Act is a no-go as long as Sinn Fein uses Gaelic as cultural weapon


Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Northern Ireland Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin

Sinn Fein has announced that Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin intends to launch a consultation on an Irish Language Act for Northern Ireland.

It is, of course, an utterly pointless exercise. Caral Ni Chuilin can consult as long as she wants but the fact remains that the overwhelming majority of unionists are opposed to an Irish Language Act. For that reason it will not gain the support of the Northern Ireland Assembly and will fall by the wayside as another failure for Sinn Fein.

Some people may ask why we oppose the Sinn Fein plan for an Irish Language Act so here is the reason. Minority languages are part of the cultural wealth of any country, including Northern Ireland, but Sinn Fein has taken what should be seen as cultural wealth and turned it into a cultural weapon in their cultural war.

On May 26, 1982, Sinn Fein organised a Public Seminar for People Learning or Planning to Learn the Irish Language. The first speaker was Padraig O Maoicraoibhe, a Sinn Fein cultural officer, who said: "I don't think we can exist as a separate people without our language. Now every phrase you learn is a bullet in the freedom struggle."

Later there was a workshop on Irish and the National Struggle and the chairman was Sinn Fein activist Tarlach Maclonractaigh who said: "The armed struggle is the highest point of the cultural revival." Of course, "armed struggle" meant Bloody Friday, the La Mon massacre and every other murder carried out by the Provisional IRA and that was seen as the highest point of a Gaelic revival.

Sinn Fein then published the proceedings of that day under the title Learning Irish - a discussion and information booklet, with an introduction by Mairtin O Muilleoir, then a Sinn Fein cultural officer and now a Sinn Fein MLA. According to the booklet: "Everyone was agreed that there was a definite link between the National Struggle and the Cultural Revival."

That seminar marked the public launch of a new phase in Sinn Fein's cultural war and the key statement about every Irish word being a bullet in their freedom struggle entered the republican mind. In her book The Irish Language in Northern Ireland, published in 1997, Camille O'Reilly quoted a prominent member of Sinn Fein as saying something similar: "Every word of Irish spoken is like another bullet being fired in the struggle for Irish freedom."

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Then, moving on 30 years, where is the Irish language movement today? Well, we now have an Irish-medium school that uses the pen-name of Bobby Sands as the name of the school and an Irish language biography of Bobby Sands for children was published for use in Irish-medium schools.

Martin McGuinness even took it a stage further when he distributed Bobby Sands certificates and Bobby Sands scholarships to children learning Irish in a secondary school in Belfast. Most people will find it obscene that an IRA terrorist is held up as a role model and icon for children learning Irish, but Sinn Fein prefers to link the Irish language with militant Irish republicanism.

Some Irish language activists try to present the language as part of a shared heritage but the facts above show us what Sinn Fein really thinks. Their own ugly words condemn them and remind us that the Irish language is used by Sinn Fein as part of a cultural war.

An Irish Language Act would simply put more firepower into the Sinn Fein cultural arsenal.

It would be deeply divisive in an already divided society. It would be incredibly expensive at a time of financial austerity and I have no doubt that Sinn Fein would see it as a way of creating "jobs for the boys". Just think of all those republicans who learned Irish in the Maze.

If Sinn Fein really wants to do something for Irish they should decommission their cultural weaponry and end their cultural war.

  • Nelson McCausland MLA is chair of the Assembly's culture, arts and leisure committee

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