There’s news that the National Roads Authority is to consider (and only consider, mind you) a proposal backed by Leo Varadkar, the Minister of Transport, that public road signs in Ireland are to treat the Irish and English languages equally. At the moment all road signs throughout the country are supposedly bilingual in accordance with the Official Languages Act of 2003. However in practice this piece of equality legislation is frequently nullified by various opt-out clauses particularly in the areas of public signage. Furthermore even where bilingual signs do exist the Irish text is often indicated to be of a lesser status through the use of italics, smaller fonts and placements that are too high or too low for reading. This is something that I examined at length back in 2011 when I outlined the discriminatory and confusing nature of Ireland’s English-dominated traffic signs (though as I pointed out then the logical and cost effective solution was and is to restore the Irish language names of the places mentioned on such signs by dropping the 90% anglicised names of Irish originals).
Hopefully the new designs, from a project commissioned by Conradh na Gaeilge, the civil rights group for Irish-speakers, will remedy this anomalous state of affairs by presenting the text of both languages equally, primarily through the use of colour-coding and fonts. As well as taking inspiration from planners and designers at home these new signs will also follow international best practice as seen in numerous bilingual and multilingual nations across Europe. If given the go-ahead (and the NRA has a very poor record of treating Irish-speaking citizens and communities with respect) a number of trials will be rolled out.
Unsurprisingly the reaction from the language extremists within the Anglophone majority has been vociferous to the point of hysterical.
“Why confuse the issue and make driving that little bit more dangerous, just to pander to the usual language fascists? Can we not get over this ridiculous hold that a dead language has on us?”
“…we are squandering money on irrelevant and possibly dangerous “initiatives” just to pander to some largely irrelevant minority.”
“NOBODY SPEAKS IRISH, WE ARE AN ENGLISH SPEAKING NATION.”
“How do crackpot minorities get so many ‘green lights’ for things we can’t afford?”
“It’s just the fanatic Gaelgeoirs persisting in denying that Irish is for all intents and purposes a defunct language.”
“This is the kind of arrant nonsense we have tolerated for years in appeasing the Irish Language Taliban.”
“These new signs, if this idiotic suggestion is adopted, will mean most drivers will be distracted by the irrelevant information which the Irish Language fanatics demand is given “parity of esteem”…”
“Put them into Polish. Or Nigerian”
“…if anything should be done at all then it should be the removal of the Irish from road signs outside of the Geltach areas”
“It’s a joke of a pot pourri makey uppy language”
“Yet again we have the Irish language fascists forcing the ordinary people to experience a language they do not speak! My family is more than 6 generations Irish, at least … and I am as Irish as anyone – I DO NOT WANT TP SPEAK IRISH.”
“Irish is not the language of Ireland. It has not been so for over a century. We should all be extremely grateful this is the case. We could easily have remained the Albania of Western Europe if we were saddled with it.”
Same old, same old then. I wonder will the English-speaking supremacists who make living in Ireland as an Irish-speaker such a joy resort to the old solution of vandalism, paintbrush or gun in hand? At least Leo Varadkar sees the importance of equality for Ireland’s bilingual citizens, something perhaps not unrelated to his leadership ambitions within the currently governing Fine Gael party.
(With thanks to An Lorcánach)