'More people speak Polish than speak Irish', this is the attitude that former First Minister and leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster has towards the Irish language. It is also the attitude that a large portion of the North has towards the language. Many see it as a failed revival with only a small percentage of the population using it daily. However, this is not how I see it. I see it as a resistant language which overcame the anglicization of Ireland which persists to this day, with its numbers growing stronger daily.
Before the current political disarray facing the North, I never really saw the need for an “Acht Na Gaelige”. I wore my fáinne daily with pride, using it as a conversation starter and as a way for other gaelgeoirs to identify me without the need for awkward Smalltalk beforehand. I felt content with my language and the attitude towards it. I knew of its treatment in earlier years, with the lack of funding towards Irish medium schools and a lack of faith in the future of the language. However, I thought those were issues of the past. Yet, this past year, the eyes of many have been opened to the true discrimination members of the Irish language community continue to experience. For many, it started with the removal of the Líofa bursaries, a scheme of £50,000 that aimed to allowed less fortunate children to attend Irish Language summer camps. Then came cuts for youth services, many of which being taken through the Irish medium. The Irish language community was angry and so was I. It was then the necessity of “Acht Na Gaelige” and the Irish Language's protection through legislation was clear to me.
However, despite these issues, many have begun to instil blame upon the Irish language community for the lack of an assembly, stating “Health is more important than the Irish Language” and “An Irish Language Act is too expensive” and understandably so. As in any other case of civil rights discrimination, often those who do not feel the iron fist of an oppressor see a necessity as a luxury . However, it is extremely important for those people to realise that for many, it is not a luxury. For many, language rights are human rights. For many, the lack of an Irish language act is discrimination on a constitutional level.
Another roadblock in the pathway to an Irish language act is the supposed republicanisation of its implementation. With many objectors claiming that it is a Trojan horse to a United Ireland, or that gaelscoileanna are nothing more than training camps for budding republicans. It is time this prehistoric notion is recognised as what it is. Prehistoric. Gaeilgeoirí are requesting nothing more than is already available in other regions of the UK.
The Welsh have a Welsh language act.
The Scottish have the Scottish Gaelic act.
Why is it so absurd that the North should have an Irish Language Act? Is this a problem deeper than discrimination? Is it time we reform the petition of concern? Is the aspect of our society that is supposed to protect minorities the very thing that is oppressing them?
And on the aforementioned cost of the implementation of an An Irish language act, Conradh na Gaelige have estimated that it would initially cost a one-off £8.5million to implement an Irish Language Act, with a further annual £2million cost. Is this too great a cost? According to the DUP, these figures are “reasonable”, yet they continue to oppose this act. You would think that they’d be the main advocate for the act considering how often they preach that it was the “Presbyterians that saved the language from extinction.” This once more is nothing more than the politicization of the language. An act of discrimination.
This discrimination is then reinforced when Arlene Foster, the leader of the largest party and former First Minister begins to belittle these rights and the overarching culture of Ireland stating, 'More people speak Polish' and that the language has become too politicised. Is this not a clear example of why an Acht is necessary? Should this ignorance be tolerated?
The Irish language community will take this no more. People are coming out in their masses to show that there is a demand and a need for an Irish Language Act. An Lá dearg, showed the people's support when thousands of gaelgeoirs flooded the streets of Belfast, with no particular political party at mind. With only a love for the language. It has been 16 years since the Good Friday agreement, 8 years since the St Andrew's Agreement, yet Irish language speakers are still being treated as second class citizens. In order to withhold the integrity of these agreements the Irish language community must be respected.
As a result, now my fáinne acts as a political magnet, attracting conversations on the future of the assembly and questions regarding my opinion on an Act. Arlene Foster was right on one thing, my language has been politicised. It was politicised by those who have continued to deny language rights and belittle the Irish language community.
Tiernan 16 year old student attending St Mary's CBGS in Belfast having originally attended Bunscoil Phobal Feirste.