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British Minority To Irish Majority: Your Language Is Foreign Gobbledegook

Last week the DUP leader and Joint First Minister Peter Robinson made an “outreach” at his party conference to Roman Catholic voters in the North of Ireland (or rather British Unionist voters who also happen to be Roman Catholic) with lots of feel-good stuff about acceptance, sharing, equality and suchlike. At the same time murmurs emanated from political circles within the British ethnic minority indicating a willingness to recognise the Irish identity of the community they share the north-eastern part of Ireland with, and a new preparedness to work towards a constructive future of equals. Or so the optimists and apologists proclaimed.

How quickly it all falls apart. From UTV:

“A row has erupted between Belfast City councillors after a motion was passed to allow a Happy Christmas sign in the Irish language to hang outside the City Hall. A motion regarding the festive sign, which says Nollaig Shona Duit, was passed by a majority vote at Thursday night’s monthly meeting.

Sinn Féin said that ratepayers will not have to pay for the sign as it is being donated by the west Belfast based Irish language arts and culture centre, An Chultúrlann.

However, Unionists are not happy with the decision.

Sinn Féin councillor, Jim McVeigh, told UTV that it was “a fantastic development.”

He said: “It’s a great Nollaig Shona for the Irish language community to decide to have a sign over the City Hall and indeed, for inclusiveness for the whole of the city.”

Cllr McVeigh said the motion had been passed by “a majority vote.”

Councillor David Browne, who referred to the language as gobbledegook at that night’s council meeting, said he was “very disappointed” at the decision.

“I’m sorry, I don’t understand it,” he told UTV, adding that he didn’t care how much is spent on the language as long as it wasn’t paid for by the ratepayers of the city.

“I look at the language in the same way as I look at Ulster Scots. It’s a foreign language as such like French, German or whatever and if people want to learn how to speak it or want to practice it – they should pay for it.”

He said Sinn Féin, supported by the Alliance party, took the opportunity to push the motion through and Unionists were “outvoted.””

Funny the way the British Unionist minority in Ireland scream about the primacy of the ballot box and democracy – until it gives them a decision they don’t like or agree with. Ahhh, its 1914 all over again. Or is that 1918? 1921? 1968?

Hey-ho and off we go to wee Droim Mór – OOOPS! I should of course write Dromore. Gotta mind those sensitivities before the “Protestants explode”. And we don’t want that now, do we? From the Dromore Leader:

“DROMORE Councillor Olive Mercer is one of two Ulster Unionists embroiled in controversy this week over a vote on the proposed erection of Irish language signage in the district.

Mrs. Mercer is known to have abstained when the Sinn Fein proposal was put to the vote at a recent council committee meeting and The Leader understands party colleague and council chairman, Joan Baird, likewise sat out the show of hands.

The precise outcome of the vote, which would in any event have to win ratification by the full council, has not been made public, but the DUP has responded to news of Ulster Unionist abstentions with disappointment and concern.

A perceived lack of Unionist unity on what was described as a costly and divisive proposal was the chief concern to emerge when The Leader contacted the DUP.

A source said, “Two proposals were made to the committee; the first, from Sinn Fein, would have meant that Irish language signs could be erected if two-thirds of the local residents agreed.

“This would have been costly. It would also have been divisive.”

What? Two-thirds of the people living in an area voting to erect signs in the language they identify with? This democracy thing really is mad altogether, isn’t? Poor wee Billy McLilly. His head does be fairly bursting with it.

Ho-hum, so back to normal then.

5 comments on “British Minority To Irish Majority: Your Language Is Foreign Gobbledegook



    • As is English although imposed out of the barrel of a gun and reinforced via a variegated set of state sanctions over time and many colonized places: Another Boer-like derivative of a Germanic tongue currently the global lingua franca as others were before it (and still gobbledegook to much of this earth’s population especially when spoken in “non-standard” forms by Anglo-“‘heartland’ ‘native-speakers'”.


  2. François Vincent

    Hi Séamas,

    Congratulation on being nominated in the Blog Awards of Ireland 2013 – in two categories, at that. As the author of the now-defunct French-language blog “Couleurs irlandaises” (which you kindly plugged in the past), I know only too well the kind of commitment that is required to keep a blog going.

    Without sounding unduly negative, I need to express some reservation in relation to your pointed references to Protestants of Anglo-Scottish descent as being an “ethnic minority”. This “ethnicity” talk is nonsense in today’s world. Besides, I would challenge you to tell a native Irish person of Anglo-Scottish origin, from another one of Irish Gaelic origin, solely on the basis of ethnicity (for instance, by comparing two newborn babies who are not encumbered with any cultural baggage yet). The same nonsense is still found in the GAA constitution which refers to the “Irish race”. If you were to talk about a “French race” in France (let alone in Germany!), you know as well as I know how that kind of ethnocentric definition would be dismissed…

    Secondly, I did attend that debate in Banbridge District Council’s chamber. Introducing bilingual signs in housing developments where two thirds of the residents want it would, indeed, be divisive… Why? Because, in this part of Ireland, there is no consensus on the Irish language being the shared heritage of everybody… Should a ‘Catholic’ housing development opt for bilingual Irish-English signage, the next-door ‘Protestant’ development will ask for Ulster-Scots-English signage… Thus, territories will be marked out even more. This is the sad reality of this corner of ireland. Hearts and minds have to be won over before universally-bilingual signage can be introduced. This isn’t the case yet.

    Best of luck with your blog. I will keep my fingers crossed for you!



    • Thanks for the Comment, François, and the kind words.

      I quite agree with you that the use of the term “ethnic minority” is a difficult one but I can think of no other that will convey in the English language the sense of difference felt by those with a British Unionist identity in the north-east of Ireland that is as much cultural (and linguistic) as political and/or religious. I could simply go with “British minority” or “minority community” but for my many readers outside of Ireland (and non-English speakers) the intended meaning of that might be lost.

      Using “ethnic” follows the kind of terminology established by English language Wikipedia and western journalism when describing minority communities in nations with majorities who view themselves differently from the minority (and vice versa). In conveys a cultural/religious/political sense of communal identity, not racial (which is nonsense of course).

      I would actually welcome some better wording if you have any ideas?

      On the issue of the public use of the Irish language I’m afraid we must disagree. But I would note that there is a fair proportion of Anglophones in this part of the country who make common cause with Unionists in the northern part when it comes to Irish. They are united in their opposition, antipathy or hatred of Irish (or more truthfully, Irish-speakers). The cultural heritage of British rule in Ireland that creates such “racism” is common to both.

      Winning hearts and minds is one thing – inalienable rights is another. The two are not incompatible but the latter cannot always perforce bow to the former. There is a great historic wrong here that must be righted. There is a community that must be given voice.

      The hidden people are no longer willing to remain hidden.

      May I ask, have you any thoughts of returning to blogging? Couleurs irlandaises was excellent. Even when I disagreed with it I liked it 🙂


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