The northern regional Department of Culture, Arts and Leisure (DCAL) has published a new study, ‘Public Attitudes towards the Irish Language in Northern Ireland: Findings from the Northern Ireland Omnibus Survey January 2012’. A medium size document (available in PDF format) it lists a number of topics covering a wide area of language usage in the North of Ireland.
Two things stand out immediately. One is the surprising level of support or acceptance amongst those who identify themselves as “Protestants” for the Irish language (14%). However this is also coupled with an attitude amongst “Protestant” correspondents of no firm opinions either way (an unexpectedly high 40%). Barely over half of all “Protestants” surveyed opposed the language outright (54%), considerably lower than expected.
Though the figures should be approached with caution (as with all surveys and polls in the north-east of the country), it does offer some signs of encouragement for the Irish-speaking communities and citizens of the North of Ireland.
The headline details are as follows:
“Of all respondents surveyed:
35% in favour of Irish language usage in the North of Ireland.
35% no opinion.
A considerably higher proportion of Catholics than Protestants were in favour of Irish language usage (66% and 14% respectively). However, two-fifths of Protestants (40%) and around a quarter of Catholics (27%) were neither in favour nor against the usage of the Irish language in the North.
44% would like to see and hear more Irish being used in the North of Ireland.
46% would like to see and hear less.
Around three-quarters of Catholics (76%) and a fifth of Protestants (21%) would like to see and hear more Irish being used. Around two-thirds of Protestants (67%) and a sixth of Catholics (16%) would like to see and hear less Irish being used.
56% thought that Irish should be offered as an option on documents, leaflets, notices etc. where other languages are offered.
Three-quarters of Catholics (75%) and just over two-fifths of Protestants (41%) said they would like to see Irish offered as a language option in documents, leaflets, notices etc. where other languages are offered.
24% felt Irish was important to personal identity.
52% felt that it was not important.
23% no opinion.
Around one out of every two Catholics (52%) said Irish was important to their personal identity compared with one out of every twenty Protestants (5%). Almost three-quarters of Protestants (74%) and a fifth of Catholics (21%) said that Irish was not important to their personal identity; while a fifth of Protestants (20%) and a just over a quarter of Catholics (26%) said it was neither important nor unimportant.
49% agreed that Irish is important to regional culture of the North of Ireland.
32% did not agree.
19% no opinion.
Three-quarters of Catholics (75%) and almost three-tenths of Protestants (29%) agreed that Irish is important to culture in the North, while a half of Protestants (50%) and a tenth of Catholics (10%) disagreed. However, around four in every twenty Protestants (21%) and three in every twenty Catholics (15%) neither agreed nor disagreed.
46% disagreed with the statement: “Irish is not relevant for Northern Ireland today”.
21% no opinion.
Around three in every twenty Catholics (16%) and nine in every twenty Protestants (45%) agreed with the statement “Irish is not relevant for Northern Ireland today”. Just under a third of Protestants (31%) and two-thirds of Catholics (66%) disagreed with this statement, while 24% of Protestants and 18% of Catholics neither agreed nor disagreed.
52% agreed that it is important that the North of Ireland does not lose its Irish language traditions.
22% no opinion.
More than eight in every ten Catholics (83%) and almost three in every ten Protestants (29%) agreed that it is important that the North does not lose its Irish language traditions. Four-tenths of Protestants (40%) and under a tenth of Catholics (7%) disagreed, while three-tenths of Protestants (30%) and just over a tenth of Catholics (11%) neither agreed nor disagreed.
42% agreed that Irish makes a valuable contribution to promoting the North of Ireland’s identity overseas.
21% no opinion.
Just over two-thirds of Catholics (68%) and a fifth of Protestants (22%) agreed that Irish plays an important role in promoting the North abroad, while around eleven out of every twenty Protestants (54%) and three out of every twenty Catholics (14%) disagreed. There were similar proportions of Protestants (22%) and Catholics (17%) who neither agreed nor disagreed.
24% disagreed with the statement “Irish is only relevant in certain parts of Northern Ireland”.
18% no opinion.
Around a half of Catholics (51%) and three-fifths of Protestants (62%) agreed that Irish is only relevant in certain parts of the North, while two-tenths of Protestants (20%) and three-tenths of Catholics (30%) disagreed. Similar proportions of Catholics and Protestants neither agreed nor disagreed that Irish is only relevant in certain parts of the North (19% and 17% respectively).
81% agreed that pupils, who wish, should be able to take Irish as a subject at school.
10% no opinion.
Around nineteen out of every twenty Catholics (93%) and fifteen out of every twenty Protestants (73%) agreed that those pupils, who wish, should be able to study Irish at school. The same proportions of Protestants disagreed and neither agreed nor disagreed (13%). For Catholics, the respective proportions were 2% and 6%.
53% agreed that there should be more opportunities for people to learn Irish across the North of Ireland.
26% no opinion.
Almost four-fifths of Catholics (79%) and over a third of Protestants (35%) agreed that there should be more opportunities for people to learn Irish across the North, while 30% of Protestants and 6% of Catholics disagreed. However, amongst Protestants, similar proportions agreed, disagreed and neither agreed nor disagreed that there should be more opportunities for people to learn Irish across the North (35%, 30% and 34% respectively).
41% agreed that the use of Irish should be supported and encouraged throughout the North of Ireland.
23% no opinion.
Almost three-quarters of Catholics (74%) and less than a fifth of Protestants (18%) agreed that the use of Irish should be supported and encouraged throughout the North. Over a half of Protestants (54%) and a tenth of Catholics (10%) disagreed, while 27% of Protestants and 16% of Catholics neither agreed nor disagreed.
The most frequently cited factor that would encourage more use of Irish was: “More opportunity to study Irish in schools and further education” (18%).
Approximately five times the proportion of Catholics than Protestants agreed that more should be done to encourage and promote Irish in the North (71% and 14% respectively). Around eleven out of every twenty Protestants and two out of every twenty Catholics disagreed (56% and 9% respectively). Two-tenths of Catholics (20%) and almost three-tenths of Protestants (29%) neither agreed nor disagreed that more should be done to encourage and promote Irish in the North.
When shown a list of nine elements which are contained in language acts in other jurisdictions, 52% selected at least one that they thought should be included in an Irish Language Act in the North of Ireland.”
The survey also contains some interesting comparisons between public attitudes towards Scottish (Scots Gaelic) in Scotland and Irish in the North of Ireland:
“Some of the same questions were asked in a similar type of survey on attitudes to the Gaelic language in Scotland 2011 (West and Graham, 2011). Therefore, comparisons can be made between the attitudes towards Irish in Northern Ireland and towards Gaelic in Scotland. The respondents in Scotland were more in favour of the usage of Gaelic than the respondents in Northern Ireland were in favour of the usage of Irish (51% and 35% respectively).
The biggest differences between attitudes to Gaelic in Scotland and to Irish in Northern Ireland were in relation to the importance to their country’s culture and traditions. Over three-quarters of the Scottish respondents (77%) felt that Gaelic is important to their country’s culture while just under a half of the Northern Ireland respondents (49%) felt the same way about Irish. Similarly, four-fifths of the Scottish respondents (81%) agreed that it is important that Scotland does not lose its Gaelic traditions whereas just over a half of the Northern Ireland respondents (52%) had similar views about Northern Ireland’s Irish traditions.
Similar proportions of respondents in Northern Ireland and Scotland believed that Irish and Gaelic respectively are important to their personal identity (24% and 22% respectively). In addition, similar proportions from the two countries thought that the respective language is not relevant.”
More analysis later.
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I’m not sure that there’s anything surprising in these figures. ‘Catholics’ are generally supportive of the language and ‘protestants’ are generally indifferent to it – that seems to have been the pattern for quite a while now. The only issue is that the politicians who represent the broader protestant-unionist population tend to come from/appeal to the small minority that outright opposes the language.
True, Ciarán, but now we have some figures to qualify that “generally”.
The belief was that the survey would show far less support for Irish from “Protestants” and far more outright opposition. That doesn’t seem to be the case. Even an attitude of “indifference” is more welcome than simple (and non-negotiable) hostility. The percentages here certainly should give pause for thought to Irish language rights activists and community leaders. What can be done to appeal more to favourably disposed “Protestants” as well as winning over the “no opinions”?
There is also some interesting stuff for us on the Republican or Nationalist side of things. Some 20% of “Catholics” seem to have little interest or regard for the Irish language, if you round out the numbers. That is worrying though hardly surprising. What needs to be done there?
All in all a worthwhile survey.
You’re definitely right that it’s good to have these statistics at hand, especially for certain politicians who like to prattle on about how the language itself is divisive and sectarian.
You know, I’ve been thinking a lot about how Scots – specifically Lowland and Border Scots – relate to the Scottish language and traditional Scottish culture. As the poll indicates, they consistently state that they consider it integral to their national identity and culture. But the more I think about it and read into it, the more I think that their only interest in the Scottish language is as a means of differentiation from the English.
If they truly cared about the language, why do so few Scots bother to learn it? Yes, the majority of the Irish population can’t speak their native tongue either – but as you’ve covered on this blog multiple times, native speakers are increasing. And the mainstream population doesn’t, as far as I’ve seen, show outright hostility to Gaels. Meanwhile, you have an entire segment of Scotland – the Lowlands – that balk at the “teuchter mafia” swallowing up BBC funding for Scottish language broadcasting. They deny Scotland’s historical language the simple and accurate label of “Scottish”, calling it “Scottish Gaelic” instead. That name is reserved for their English tongue, which – in sheer contradiction of the place names throughout the country – they insist was spoken in their area of Scotland longer than Scottish.
In essence, these Scots embrace the Scottish language for as long as it provides a convenient affirmation of their uniqueness and independence from England. But when it comes to the business of fully embracing the culture that they themselves evicted to the Highlands and the Hebrides – learning Scottish, taking steps to re-Gaelicize their culture – they respond not only with indifference, but with outrage.
The more I read about Lowland Scots, the more I read articles like these…
… the more difficult it is for me to respect them.
Ian Jack, of course, comes with a certain amount of anti-Scottish baggage as do many Scots who have done well in England. He will use his position as a British journalist to make mischief for Scotland until the sovereignty question is settled to his satisfaction.
Some very interesting points, James, and I agree with many of them.
But don’t discount the colonial element in all this and the ethnic make-up of the modern population of Scotland. The colonial history is well-known so I won’t go over it. I’m sure you’re fully familiar with it. The ethnic thing on the other hand is far more complex and less understood.
The English language has been active in Scotland since the 7th century AD following English migration and expansion from what is now northern England, though it remained confined to the south-east corner for most of the next 500 years. However by the 15th century is was dominant in what is now the Borders and Lowlands, roughly half of Scotland. It rapidly gained the upper-hand thereafter. Though the ancestors of many modern Scots were originally Scottish speakers (or related Pictish or Northern Welsh speakers) some undoubtedly were always English speakers.
That, in part, is where the modern Scots English or Scots language and culture is derived from. A distinct Anglo-Scots ethnicity. In Ireland we have a similar population, an Anglo-Irish one one partly colonial in origin though largely of Native Irish descent but thoroughly anglicised.
While in Ireland our “ethnic wars” are more straightforwardly post-colonial in nature and compare to many other similar paradigms (indeed we are something of a cliché in this respect), Scotland’s case is more complex.
I think that the Scottish language is very much seen as an ethnic thing rather than simply as a national thing by some opponents. Scottish, Gaelic, Celtic, etc. Likewise Scots English has an element of ethnicity to it to (Lowland, Borderers, English, etc.).
There is an article in all this that I’ve been promising to write for ages but the complexity of it has somewhat deterred me.