The majority of the population of the island of Ireland can only be Irish when the minority of the population who do not regard themselves as Irish are ready to permit it. That seems to be the message of journalist Malachi O’Doherty in the unionist-leaning Belfast Telegraph newspaper, as he comments on the attempts by Newry, Mourne and Down Council to meet demands for dual language signage in their local government area. In the columnist’s opinion bilingual signs displaying a recognition of the indigenous language of this nation are “…just a bit of English and a bit of gobbledygook” that in other geographical circumstances, such as in the capital city of Dublin, would be both “quaint” and “charming“. However relocated to the UK-administrated north-east of the country such physical manifestations of Irishness simply become part of an alleged “culture war” being waged against Britain’s continued legacy-colony on the island.
Of course readers in the United States will be more familiar with the concept of a “culture war” as imagined by right-wing nationalists and media-folk in their republic, where it is claimed to be:
“…a conflict between those values considered traditionalist or conservative and those considered progressive or liberal. It originated in the 1920s when urban and rural American values came into clear conflict. This followed several decades of immigration to the States by people whom earlier European immigrants considered “alien”. “
In the context of Ireland the leaders of unionism, and their apologists, believe a war is being waged against their supremacist sense of “Britishness” in the north-east and it is one in which Irish-speaking citizens and communities are being forcefully labelled as “alien” in their own country. Those ideologues and political mavericks who rally to defend the rump British colony on the island see it as their duty to pillory, suppress and extinguish An Ghaelige wherever it appears because their paranoia renders it – and all that it apparently represents – into some sort of existential threat to their way of life. In that sense they are no different from their fellow-travellers in Fox News who provide the fuel which drives animosity towards Native American, Latino-American or Afro-American communities or the arch-manipulators of the al-Ḥayāt Media Centre who supply the psychological ammunition that arms the fanatics of the Islamic State.
A more honest summation of some unionist opinions of Irish-speakers in Ireland would run:
“When the Gaeltacht sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing guns. They’re bringing terror. They’re terrorists. And some, I assume, are good people.
We’re building a wall. And it’s going to be a great wall. And, by the way, the Free State will pay for it. It’s going to a great wall, because I know how to build. And it’s not going to cost nearly as much as what they’re saying for a crummy wall.
We’re going to do a wall; we’re going to have a big, fat beautiful door on the wall; we’re going to have people come in, but they’re going to come in speaking English!”
Unfortunately there is no lack of Seoníní willing to lend respectability to such prejudices.