Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland can't afford the astronomical cost of an Irish Language Act

By Nelson McCausland

Last week, the Minister for Culture, Arts and Leisure made an embarrassing admission during a radio interview. Caral Ni Chuilin had announced her intention to publish a consultation on an Irish Language Act and the next day she was interviewed on Radio Ulster by Joel Taggart.

The interviewer pointed out that many folk would ask, "How much is this going to cost?" That was a good question and, indeed, many people will ask it. But the Sinn Fein minister replied: "We don't know what the cost is going to be."

It is incredible that any minister would work up proposals for an Irish Language Act with no idea of what it would cost, but that is what she said. She doesn't know.

For some reason or other, at that point my mind was drawn to a verse in the Bible. "For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost." (Luke 14:28). That verse has a spiritual application, but it is based on a very practical truth. It is simply common sense to "count the cost".

Of course, the fact is that Sinn Fein is afraid to say what the cost of an Irish Language Act might be, because it realises that as soon as the cost is worked out it will be immediately clear that Northern Ireland simply can't afford it.

Whatever the other arguments might be, the financial argument alone will kill it off - except in the minds of the most ardent republicans and the most unreasonable Irish cultural zealots.

Who is going to argue for spending tens of millions of pounds more on Irish language translations, Irish language translators, Irish language advertisements, Irish language documents, Irish language road signs and whatever else, while at the same time health, education and other services are under pressure?

Well, of course, no reasonable person will argue for it, but then there is little that is reasonable about those who continue to campaign for an Irish Language Act.

The forthcoming consultation will be a futile exercise, but at least it will serve one purpose: it will put the spotlight on the Sinn Fein plan for an Irish Language Act and both the possible content and the probable cost of such an Act.

Thereby, it will expose the irrationality and the political agenda behind calls for such legislation.

Just think for a moment of the money that Government departments and agencies currently spend on advertising. Then think of those advertisements you have seen, put forward by Sinn Fein ministers, which are in Irish as well as English. Those occupy twice the space at twice the cost.

Then take it a stage further and apply it to all Government departments, because that is where an Irish Language Act would take us. That would mean doubling the entire advertising bill for government.

It may mean more advertising income for some newspapers, but at what cost in terms of nurses, hospital wards, teachers and textbooks?

Of course, Irish language activists want to be able to use Irish in every area of public life and that means every Government department and every public agency would have to recruit staff who were able to speak, write and understand Irish and deal with customers in Irish. Where would those people come from?

So far, the main area of employment for Irish speakers is probably the Irish-medium schools, so where do they get their teachers from?

A few years ago, the former IRA hunger striker Laurence McKeown provided an answer to that question. He said that events in the H-blocks at the Maze prison "contributed significantly to the revival of the Irish] language".

"Many former prisoners are today Irish language teachers and, indeed, principals of Irish language schools." (Irish News, September 15, 2006).

That was the explanation of an Irish-speaking former IRA man - and who am I to argue with him?

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

Belfast Telegraph


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