While the rest of Europe is getting on with the 21st century in the north-eastern corner of our island nation the final redoubt of the British colony in Ireland continues to behave as if it were the 19th century. At the annual conference of the DUP, the largest political party representing the Unionist minority community in the peace-brokered power-sharing regional government in Belfast, former local minister Gregory Campbell made it explicitly clear to the Irish Nationalist community – the majority demographic on the island – the regard he and his colleagues have for the indigenous language and culture of Ireland.
“Sometimes you have to spell things out for the slow learners in Sinn Féin. Now some of us do it regularly and do it often. But we’re going to keep doing it. On behalf of this party we’ll say it sloooowly so you understand Caitriona [Ruane] and Gerry [Adams]. We will never agree to your Irish language Act. Do you understand? The paper that your wish list is written on, well, we just regard it as toilet paper.”
Can you imagine a politician associated with a high profile regional administration in Spain or France, Italy or Germany, uttering such sentiments and getting away with it? Can you imagine a senior politician promulgating such hate speech and the liberal media not demanding his metaphorical head on a plate? Yet, as with his previous anti-Irish taunting, Campbell will get away with it because journalists and commentators will say it is simply a British Unionist politician in Ireland being a British Unionist politician in Ireland, appealing to the racist, sectarian and supremacist ideological base upon which his power and that of his peers are based.
However lest you think that antipathy to this country’s native culture is a legacy confined to the more anachronistic elements of the Unionist minority remember our own dear Irish civil service and its loyal adherence to its British civil service past, circa 1900. From the Irish Times:
“The Revenue Commissioners failed in their statutory bilingual duty when they sent out only the English language version of an information booklet on the local property tax, it has been claimed in the High Court.
The Revenue is appealing a decision by the Office of the Language Commissioner that it had breached the Official Languages Act 2003 by failing to communicate bilingually when it sent 1.7 million booklets to households in February 2013.
In what is the first appeal against a decision of the Language Commissioner, the court heard the commissioner received a number of complaints because under the 2003 Act, public bodies are obliged to communicate bilingually “with the public in general”.
Ben Ó Floinn, for Revenue, said the parcels sent to 1.7 million households last year were not communications with the public in general because each information parcel was addressed to a specific citizen, whose name was written clearly on the envelope along with the words “Private and Confidential”.”
Yes, a department of the government of Ireland is going all the way to the courts to appeal a review by the Language Commissioner that in the future would oblige it to fulfil its legal obligations under the Official Languages Act, both in word and in spirit. That 2003 legislation places the Irish and English languages on an almost equal footing within the state (along with the Constitution of Ireland which uniquely denotes Irish as both the national and first official language of the state, a constitutional inconvenience blithely ignored for the last ninety odd years by the, er, state). Yet civil servants will now fight against a judgement by the Commissioner that will over the long term still cost less than the hundreds of thousands of euros in legal fees it will incur in fighting it – and which the general public will pay for.
So before we condemn some extreme Unionist politicians and their media apologists for their historically racist biases perhaps we should look first at the discriminatory culture permeating the institutions of our own government. For when it comes to treating Irish-speaking communities and citizens as excrement both political Unionism and political Nationalism share a common tradition.