Why do many unionists become enraged at the idea of an Irish Language Act?

Why are so many unionists opposed to an Irish Language Act? They say it’s because they don’t want compulsory Irish in all schools, Irish street signs in every street, preference given to Irish speakers applying to the civil service.

Is that true? I doubt it. Most thinking unionists know that there never was any question of compulsory Irish for children, or compulsory Irish street names, or preference given to Irish speakers in the civil service. So what is it that makes them so implacably opposed to the Irish language?

Some will tell you that they feel their sense of Britishness is being targeted. In a way they’re right. As things stand, and as we’re forever being reminded, this north-eastern nook is British. Street names, education, courts, media – everything is English or British. If Irish is given a more prominent place in life here – and given that half the population consider themselves Irish it seems reasonable – then the extent to which the state is exclusively British will be diminished.

“So you admit it!” the unionist politicians and media people cry, hugging themselves that the truth has emerged. “We knew it all the time!”

Indeed I do admit it – or not so much admit as recognize the facts.

You could, of course, look at it all another way: why was a state which has always had a large minority of nationalists who value things Irish – why was that expunged, ignored, blanked out by the state? Wasn’t that an appalling social and political injustice? And isn’t the assertion of Irishness now simply creating what should have always been the case: that Irish people live here as well as those who think of themselves as British.

To express that Irishness in different ways in this state may indeed reduce the all-British monolith that has existed for so long. In fact,  justice and respect demand that it be chipped at until the Irish half of the population are given the respect and recognition they should always have had. 

Of course, that’s the problem with having been top dog for so long: it’s really really hard to shove over and leave room for other inhabitants of the kennel.

Comments are closed.