For over two-and-a-half years An Sionnach Fionn has been reporting on the rising levels of public antipathy towards Irish-speaking citizens in Ireland and the heightened culture of discrimination within the country’s departments of government. Since 2011 we’ve examined the reduction or blocking of services through the Irish language by large sections of the state, even within legally-recognised Irish-speaking communities or Gaeltachtaí. We’ve seen how the deliberate avoidance or breaking of regulations laid down by the Official Languages Act of 2003 by English-speaking civil servants and their political masters has created a culture of consequence-free prejudice that now pervades every aspect of Ireland’s dealings with its Hibernophone citizenry. To many observers both at home and abroad traditional Irish-speaking communities are being targeted for extinction by the very state which claims their allegiance through the erosion of their special legal and cultural status as the heartlands of a distinctive Irish Ireland. Now Irish-speakers are arrested by the Gardaí or police for answering in Irish to questions put to them in English (and treated, in the words of the arresting officers, as “foreigners”). Meanwhile the Supreme Court of Ireland has ruled that Irish-speaking defendants can be legally denied trial by those who speak the Irish language while English-speaking defendants are legally guaranteed trial by those who speak the English language.
Into this culture of Hibernophobic mania comes this interjection by the Irish journalist and broadcaster Bláthnaid Ní Chofaigh who two years ago rightly identified the bigotry towards Irish-speakers in Ireland as “racism”. In yesterday’s Sunday Independent newspaper she highlighted the increasingly desperate plight of a minority population under linguistic siege from a majority where those with the loudest voices and the greatest influence are the most bigoted:
“Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does a great Dort accent. No, in fact, Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh does an awful Dort accent – awfully accurate and just a little bit angry. She does impersonations of those who marvelled at the fact that she, “Omigod, spoke Irish at home,” when she first moved to Dublin. She also mimics those people at dinner parties, who tell her they “don’t see the point” of Irish.
And then there is a special passion reserved for the woman on the sidelines of a schoolboy rugby match, who made the mistake of asking, “What’s that language you’re speaking?”
There’s no affection and a lot of irritation in Blathnaid’s impersonations and, given that she lives in the heart of comfortable south County Dublin, you imagine that she must feel irritated a lot of the time.
Spend some time with Blathnaid Ni Chofaigh, however, and you see where this comes from. Sure, she lives in south Dublin and has spent all her working life in the heart of Dublin 4, but, in many ways, Blathnaid regards herself as a stranger in a strange, English-speaking land.
She feels, fundamentally, like an outsider, and the fight that is so evident in Blathnaid – the feistiness, the spunkiness – all come from that position.
One thing that unsettles her in the state broadcaster, however, is what Blathnaid perceives as a devaluing of the commitment to the Irish language. She laments that the television Irish-language programming department is open only six months of the year…
At work, Blathnaid says, a few colleagues have approached her recently, asking her to revive the Irish-conversation sessions she used to conduct over lunch in the RTE canteen. “I loved them,” she laughs, “I’d really get off on that kind of thing. Partly from a performing point of view, partly bossy, partly evangelical.” The colleagues’ requests are born out of the fact that their kids attend gaelscoileanna and they, the parents, are floundering when it comes to doing homework with them.
And Blathnaid admires that they admit their weakness, and that they want to do something about it. It’s the ones who make no effort that drive her mad, she explains.
At the dinner parties, where fellow guests – in their Dort accents, as she relates it – tell her that Irish was drummed into them and they “don’t see the point of it”. Blathnaid replies that its she who got the Irish-language raw deal, not them. “I tell them,” she says, “‘That I left my area, I had no choice, I had to speak English.’ And they say, ‘Oh, that’s not the same.’ Well, they had the advantage over me, that’s my point.
“I mean, all my life, I’m thinking in Irish and translating in my head before I speak,” Blathnaid explains. “I think in Irish, I cry in Irish. If I’m really upset or angry, I can’t even speak in English.
“I gave birth to the kids in Irish and even, being honest, when I’m intimate with Ciaran, it’s in Irish. And I can translate pretty fast, but it’s a lonely place to be.
“I do feel like a minority, and I think that, if we were to take offence, genuinely, like other minorities, then people might stand up and take notice. I think it’s racism, I really do.””
Talking of taking notice, Declan Lynch, media demagogue of the Anglophone lobby, replies in the Irish Independent with unapologetic disdain for the rights of Irish-speaking citizens:
“…the recent resignation of the Irish Language Commissioner, mainly on the grounds that the State is no longer supporting the language, is obviously a good thing.
His objection to the way things are done these days, suggests that there has been a change of attitude on the part of the State. And any change is self-evidently bound to be good, or at least better than whatever was there before.
Unfortunately, the role of Irish Language Commissioner itself has not been abolished. But we are indebted to the old one for his complaint that due to the lack of civil servants who are fluent in Irish, it is now compulsory for most Irish speakers to speak English in their official dealings.”
The rest of the article is taken up with the usual belittling propaganda of the English language extreme: Irish-speakers are mere “enthusiasts” not a distinct community with their own linguistic and cultural identity, one that is shared by hundreds of thousands of English-speakers in Ireland who reject the prejudice espoused by the Mad Mullahs of Angloland. Though for a change and in contradiction of his own argument Lynch accuses Hibernophones of fostering a system in the Irish state of “institutional discrimination” against English-speakers. That’s right,
Deaglán Declan, Irish-speakers in Ireland are such a “powerful elite” that they created a rights’ Commissioner and language rights’ legislation to enforce their will on everyone else in the country – both of which are now in complete disarray following years of obstruction by English-speaking politicians and public servants.
Rather than making a serious point Lynch’s use of the term “institutional discrimination” simply reflects the manner in which An Sionnach Fionn has reframed the debate over the Irish language (and become essential reading in some hostile media circles). This website and its readers have led the fightback against Anglophone intolerance in Ireland, we have repositioned Irish rights as civil rights – and English-speaking zealots have sat up and taken notice. They now know that the “Gaels” will no longer be passive actors in a would-be tragedy penned by others.
Like the militant extreme of the British Unionist community in the north-east of Ireland the militant extreme of Anglophones know that demographic change is on the way. They are frightened – and they are showing it.