Twenty-eight years ago officials from the government of Ireland tasked with managing Dublin’s interests in the north-east of the country asked their British counterparts to address the long-standing need for full equality between Irish- and English-speakers in the UK-administrated region. From the BBC:
“The efforts of the Irish Government under the Anglo-Irish Agreement to achieve greater recognition for the Irish language in Northern Ireland is detailed in previously confidential state papers newly released in Belfast.
In January 1986, the Irish government presented its views on “The Irish Language in Northern Ireland”.
The four-page typescript argued that “the Irish language is central to the identity and tradition of Irish nationalists”.
The paper called for “speedy action” in four specific areas: place names; the use of Irish in official business; an Irish language question in the 1991 Northern Ireland census and support for Irish language publications and events.
In particular, it raised the 1941 Stormont Local Government Act, which allowed for street names in English only.
The paper stated: “Quite apart from the rights involved, the fact is that most of the place names in NI… are Irish in their linguistic origin.”
On the use of Irish in official business, the document argued the treatment of Irish as a foreign language in Northern Ireland was “resented by nationalists and created opportunities for subversive organisations to appropriate the Irish language – the final symbol of nationality”.
The then Secretary of State Tom King had accepted the right of local residents to decide on bilingual street names.
However, it would be “inappropriate to grant Irish the parity of esteem which the Welsh enjoyed…””
That was in 1986. In 2014 all of the Irish parties to the recent Stormont House negotiations capitulated once again to the ideological racism of their British Unionist opponents and cast aside any hopes of legislation putting the Irish and English languages on an equal footing in the north-eastern corner of our island nation. Despite very public promises and pledges, and bellicose talk of breaking “the bastards”, Irish rights were sacrificed for dubious short-term gains by Sinn Féin, the SDLP and Fine Gael – Labour coalition government.
Which makes one wonder what on earth needs to be done if decades of diplomacy, politics, campaigning, legal challenges and outright pleading has achieved virtually nothing in terms of Irish rights in the dysfunctional legacy-colony of “Northern Ireland”? Which of course is what progressive Republicans and Nationalists were pondering way back in 1969 in terms of civil rights then.