Here in the twenty six counties we sometimes forget about the six counties even in areas where we should be fostering our affinity with the people on both sides of the divide resulting from the policies and ideologies of another age.
This is evident in the attitudes towards language and has led to an independant and highly successful language movement there especially in urban areas of Belfast. The input from the "language establishment" in the South may perhaps be described as minimal. I don't know whether it was sought or not but in any case the result is a strong vibrant Gaeltacht in Belfast which has sprung not from the policies of the Government or even of public representatives, but from the people.
This people's movement had grown so strongly that eventiually Government funding was made available and this was used in further development of this courageous and vibrant community. The most visible signs of this may be seen in two wonderful facilities in Belfast and Derry cities.
Now this work appears to be in great jeopardy by the policy of Foras na Gaeilge, the body responsible for the promotion of the Irish language throughout the whole island of Ireland.
"In the Good Friday Agreement (1999), it was stated that a North/South Implementation body be set up to promote both the Irish language and the Ulster Scots language. Under the auspices of this body, Foras na Gaeilge will carry out all the designated responsibilities regarding the Irish language. This entails facilitating and encouraging the speaking and writing of Irish in the public and private arena in the Republic of Ireland, and in Northern Ireland where there is appropriate demand, in the context of part three of the European Charter for Regional and Minority Languages."
While this seemed like a good (indeed brilliant) idea at the time it has not been effective because its work depended on the willingness and encouragement of two Governments to ensure success. This has led to a snail-like progress as the policies of both jurisdictions on the matter have rarely been coincidental.
The policy at present is for this body to oversee a re-organisation of the distribution of its ever diminishing funds to organisations with an all Ireland distribution. In effect this means that the organisations and people responsible for what is arguably the most successful Irish language schemes since the foundations of the Irish State are being excluded from any discussions on the refunding from Foras na Gaeilge.
This article, in Slugger O'Toole, "Cuts and splits: How the Irish language community’s most effective advocates are being silenced!" tells how this policy is harming the language and the community not only in the six counties but also throughout the Island. It is no wonder that Seán Ó Cuirreáin commented when he announced his resignation, "For those generally involved with the protection or promotion of the Irish language, either professionally or voluntarily, we are in a time of great uncertainty. Never before have I seen in over 30 years’ experience - as a journalist or language commissioner - morale and confidence so low." See our article, Waiting for eggs for omelettes since 1892! for full text!
The Irish Sate continues to pursue policies which are condemned as harmful by language experts. To my knowledge they have not produced one Language Planning expert of any calibre to justify what they are doing. Indeed the Government has ignored and failed to answer the two points the Coimisinéir Teanga has made repeatedly, that they use "...Irish in dealing with Gaeltacht communities and ensure an adequate Irish language capacity in public administration." Indeed on this latter point he states: "...there is absolutely no way that the most recent proposal in relation to the Civil Service will work."
The Stormont administration has, I think, been ambivalent at best and more often hostile to anything to do with the language. However when you look at it is there really that much difference between the two governments? One is more explicit than the other! Would it be more correct to say that one is less hypocritical than the other?
One has great sympathy for those in Foras na Gaeilge in trying to administer their brief and indeed one has to ask how long more before people in that organisation will take the lonely road taken by Seán Ó Cuireáin, the road of conscience!
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