Friday, 1 June 2007

Our Submission to the Irish Language Bill Consultation

Margaret O'Keeffe
Irish Language Bill Team
Department of Culture, Arts & Leisure
3rd Floor Interpoint
20-24 York Street
BT15 1AQ

Friday, 01 June 2007

Dear Margaret O'Keeffe,

Re: Irish Language Bill Consultation

It is the view of the signatories to this submission that the Irish Language Bill, in its current form would be detrimental to community relations within Northern Ireland and would in all likelihood undermine the very objectives which are considered the stated aim for the legislation.

The Irish language must always within the Northern Ireland context (and taking into account the “Shared Future” principles) be associated with the Ulster-Scots language. The true basis for equality must lie between those two languages, and that parity of esteem must be maintained otherwise which ever language is preferred will be perceived negatively by most of the other community, and indeed will be avoided by its own natural speakers to avoid causing offence (detrimental to very reason for the bill).

Ulster-Scots indeed has as strong a claim, if not stronger, to be the cultural language of Northern Ireland. The idea of equal treatment, between it and Irish however, is generally accepted, if not introduced in practice, by the government were spending appears to massively favour Irish.

If we are to move forward into a model shown in Scotland and in Wales, we must be certain to de-politicise the languages, the only way this can be down is to ensure that BOTH are included in a combined legislative programme that ensures absolute parity between them.

Within the Students’ Union at The Queen’s University of Belfast, there was at one time a Bi-Lingual signage policy for Irish and English signage. It was later recommended by the Fair Employment Commission that that signage be removed as it was recognised at causing a “chill factor” within the student body and alienating students from the protestant community. This was avoided by removing the bi-language signs. As QUB is an English speaking and learning university this had no effect on the use of the language or the facilities available to students, but the controversy could have as easily been avoided by the use of trilingual signs (English, Irish and Ulster-Scots).

It is this failure of parity between Irish and Ulster-Scots which will ultimately ensure that this legislation as it currently stands will undermine the Irish language and its usage and significantly detriment community relations. De-politicization, through absolute parity and the introduction of policy through need and adequate consultation, free from political bias is the only way forward, and the only way that minority language legislation will be acceptable to all members of the community of Northern Ireland.

Yours truly and on behalf of the Queen’s Ulster-Scots Society,

Edward Hanna
Convener 06/07