Taxpayers already fund Gaelic with huge sums without having an Irish Language Act, writes Nelson McCausland
An Beal Bocht - yes, it’s the first time I have started this column with three words of Irish Gaelic, but I couldn't think of a more appropriate way to start it. An Beal Bocht is the title of a novel written in Irish Gaelic by Brian O'Nolan, using the pen-name Myles na gCopaleen, and it means The Poor Mouth.
The expression “to put on the poor mouth” refers to the practice of exaggerating the difficulty of one’s situation, particularly financially, to evoke sympathy and elicit money.
Of course, you don’t have to be poor to “put on the poor mouth”. Even an affluent person can “put on the poor mouth” — so long as they manage to conceal how well-off they are.
All of which brings me to recall a protest outside the Department for Communities in the centre of Belfast following a decision to end a £50,000 Gaeltacht bursary scheme to send young Irish speakers to Donegal.
It evoked a strong reaction and street protests, in which Sinn Fein politicians were very prominent, even if one of them was holding his Irish Gaelic poster upside down.
The Sinn Fein grievance-mongers made much of this, even though the fund was reinstated, and used it as part of their “respect” agenda in the subsequent Assembly election.
They saw this as “disrespectful” and it fed into their grievance culture, because grievance has always been part of Sinn Fein’s cultural agenda.
There were a lot of children from Irish-medium schools at the Irish Gaelic protests and so, too, was Dr Art Hughes. He is a reader in Irish in the Irish and Celtic Studies Research Institute at Queen’s University and is both an Irish Gaelic academic and an Irish Gaelic activist.
According to the QUB website, he is also chair of Cumann Culturtha Mhic Reachtain (McCracken Cultural Society), an Irish Gaelic society in north Belfast.
The society is based in Aras Mhic Reachtain, a beautifully refurbished building, which the society purchased and refurbished with public money. The new centre was opened in 2015 by Sinn Fein Culture Minister Caral Ni Chuilin.
An Ciste Infheistiochta Gaeilge (Irish Language Investment Fund) provided £160,000 for the purchase of the building and the other money came from Northern Ireland government departments.
Since An Ciste normally provides around one-third of the cost, the total cost of the project will have been at least £500,000.
So, one-third of the money came from Westminster, via An Ciste, and two-thirds from central and local government budgets in Northern Ireland, but ultimately it was all public money.
The An Ciste fund was created in 2010 with £8m from Westminster, as part of a Labour Government side deal with Sinn Fein and the current directors include former Sinn Fein MLA Rosie McCorley, Sinn Fein politician Gearoid O hEara and Maria Caraher, another staunch republican.
Sinn Fein’s Martin O Muilleoir is a former director and the operational director is former Sinn Fein councillor Caoimhin Mac Giolla Mhin.
By the time the £8m is spent, it will have levered in twice as much matching money and so the Sinn Fein initiative will have created a total of around £24m of public money to Irish Gaelic organisations, with Cumann Culturtha Mhic Reachtain just one of many recipients.
Sinn Fein and Conradh na Gaeilge (Gaelic League) made much of the temporary removal of £50,000, but very little was said about the £24m, which brings us back to An Beal Bocht, The Poor Mouth. Irish language activists are certainly “putting on the poor mouth”, but they can only get away with it while they conceal the fact that their sector is comparatively affluent.
That £24m is just part of the money that already goes into the Irish Gaelic language and, last year, Nigel Dodds stated that a total figure was around £170m.
A recent newspaper report had a figure of £190m — largely as a result of commitments made 20 years ago in the Belfast Agreement and subsequent Labour side deals.
So, when Sinn Fein demand respect for Irish, is that not more than enough respect for anyone?