Sinn Féin, and to a lesser extent the SDLP, are still throwing all sorts of shapes in the regional assembly at Stormont protesting the sub-racist banter of the DUP’s Gregory Campbell, regressive Unionism’s long-standing agent provocateur for all things Irish, including our language. His bigotry towards Irish-speaking communities and citizens is nothing new. Like many British Unionist leaders Campbell’s political career is built upon decades of antipathy to the “other”. Those on this island nation who do not conform to the colonial litmus test of British and Unionist Protestant fundamentalism, c.1650.
However, in relation to Sinn Féin one is struck by the thought that the lady doth protest too much. For in the absence of a coherent and progressive policy on Irish language rights what else does the party have to offer but voluble umbrage at the slightest of slights. It certainly has done little else over the last decade for the north-east’s Irish-speaking population despite being one of the partners in the power-sharing executive in Belfast. Even nationally one can ask: where is SF’s vision for Irish both now and in the future? You can search if you wish though you might well die of old age before discovering even a modicum of an idea. Let alone a radical one.
So what does Sinn Féin offer Anglophones and Hibernophones alike as the way forward to support and revive the use of Irish as the vernacular language of a majority of our people (if that indeed is its goal. And note that I did not say the dreaded “preserve”)? Does it advocate changing the wording of the Constitution of Ireland to remove the ambiguities about the status of the national and first official language inherent in Article 8.3? Does it favour making RTÉ an Irish language public service broadcaster and legislating for English language broadcasting in private hands with genuine quality safeguards? Does it plan for Óglaigh na hÉireann (Defence Forces Ireland) to become an entirely Irish-speaking force and a pillar of the linguistic revival? Will it implement a 30% quota of Irish-speaking public servants and Gardaí? Does it support a preference for Irish medium education as a policy of the state with legislation to encourage a move to Irish-language schooling across the country?
Or does Sinn Féin – like every other political party on the issue of the Irish language – just talk the talk without ever intending to walk the walk…?