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Five Thousand March For Irish Rights In Belfast

Dearg Le Fearg
Dearg Le Fearg

Last Saturday up to five thousand people took part in An Lá Dearg i mBéal Feirste, a march through the city of Belfast in support of Irish language rights in the north-east of Ireland. Despite the disruptive presence of a small crowd of protesters from the British Unionist community (who waved British flags while making Nazi salutes, oblivious to the history of the nation they were supposedly expressing loyalty to) the demonstrators generally received a warm welcome. Following on from the ten thousand who attended a similar rally in Dublin, and with numbers again far exceeding the organisers expectations, it shows the level of demand for full equality between Irish-speaking and English-speaking citizens in Ireland, north and south. All political parties on this island nation need to acknowledge the failures of the past in relation to their language policies, policies that have fostered a system of institutionalised discrimination within the public services and government as a whole. Following on from nine centuries of violent ethnocide the nine decades of mealy-mouthed hypocrisy have simply added more damage to the cultural and social standing of Hibernophones in Ireland and encouraged a virulent form of Anglophone supremacism. As more than one observer has pointed out this expression of hatred towards all things indigenous in Ireland is simply a continuation of the anti-Irish racism that existed during the era of British colonial rule, a poisonous legacy of that disastrous period in our nation’s history that all right-minded people should oppose.

New times require new thinking. None of the political parties in Ireland have any substantive policies in relation to Irish language rights or the restoration of the Irish language as the spoken vernacular of our island nation. Even Sinn Féin, the most progressive organisation in this area, is still a long way behind international contemporaries like Plaid Cymru in Wales or the Parti Québecois in Québec. Indeed it is countries like Québec, Catalonia, the Flemish and Walloon regions of Belgium, and many others that provide the templates that Ireland needs to follow. We could start with the Constitution of Ireland and the anomaly of Article 8.3 which permits the government to effectively dodge the constitutional primacy of the Irish language as the national and first official language of the state in favour of the English language. Article 8 presently reads as follows:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Provision may, however, be made by law for the exclusive use of either of the said languages for any one or more official purposes, either throughout the State or in any part thereof.”

Clause 8.3 above is the reason we have the Official Languages Act of 2003 (a legal mechanism to curtail the primacy of Irish language rights) and why the Supreme Court could rule that Irish-speaking citizens are not entitled to a trial entirely through the medium of the Irish language (in contrast to English-speaking citizens who do have such a right). We need a constitutional amendment along the following lines:

“8.1 The Irish language as the national language is the first official language.

8.2 The English language is recognised as a second official language.

8.3 Exclusive use shall be made of the national language for all official purposes throughout the State. However, where necessary and excluding recognised Irish-speaking communities, simultaneous use may be made of both official languages for any official purposes by the State though the primacy of the national language and the State’s requirement to facilitate its exclusive use must be demonstrated at all times.”

I’m sure others could arrive at better formulae than the above but it gives one an idea of what is needed if the first steps are to be taken in building true equality, equality that no government can ignore or downplay.

8 comments on “Five Thousand March For Irish Rights In Belfast

  1. Graham Ennis

    This is really excellent!!

  2. The problem there is the word “exclusive”. That would (I think) mean that no other language could be used, at all. “Necessary” or “obligatory” may be better substitutes so that English (or French/Polish/Swahili/et cetera) may also be used in official state communication alongside an ever-present use of Irish.

    • But that is already the situation in relation to state documents, publications, etc. under Article 8 and the Official Languages Act of 2003. Translations in languages other than the two official ones are permitted. So non-Irish/English translation could be used. However it is only one suggestion and perhaps too minimal a one. Others could suggest better, I’m sure 🙂

      • However, I rarely get state documents in Irish and English; it’s usually English only. The standards already laid out are not adhered to, so a change in the constitution would be irrelevant.

        • Yes but that is because Article 8.3 provides a get-out clause for the government via the minimalist Official Languages Act 2003. Update 8.3 to make provision an unambiguous constitutional duty inherent in the constitution itself.

  3. James Todd

    While I understand that this is likely to stir up outrage among the Unionist community, I still have to wonder if “equality” between the English and Irish languages ought to be the stated goal here. If what we’re shooting for here is a truly Irish Ireland, then no one should make any illusions about the fact that Irish should be and must be the primary language of the Irish state. This is reflected both in the wording of the Constitution and in your suggested revision to Article 8.3, but still we see people talking about “equality” between the tongues. I say drop the niceties and stop pretending that we want Irish and English to be on some sort of equal footing, when the true goal is, as you stated, the primacy of Gaeilge.

    Now obviously, that is NOT the same as denying the fact that English and perhaps even “Ullans” have a long and at this point established history in Ireland. It’d be unfair in my opinion, not to mention extremely incendiary, to attempt to ostracize and blame all English-Irish or Scotch-Irish Anglophones for the sins of their ancestors and other radical British terrorist groups. But at no point in my opinion should we pretend that the rightful place of Irish is as the island’s primary language, period.

    • James Todd

      Well that was a pretty bad typo. Meant to say that we shouldn’t pretend the the rightful place of Irish is anything other than as the island’s primary language.

    • I’m not unsympathetic to that point of view, James, though I think bilingualism is the necessary first step in a voluntary return to a monolingual Irish-speaking nation. As I said I would love to see other people’s suggestions for the wording.

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