Political Unionism’s “Curry My Yogurt” Mentality

A short guest post by Mark Petticrew, a twenty-two year old politics’ student at the University Of Ulster Jordanstown, examining the current strength of Irish-speakers in the north-east of Ireland, the obstacles facing them, and the inability of ideological unionism to come to terms with the indigenous language of this island nation. Mark blogs about politics and history here.


Political Unionism’s “Curry My Yogurt” Mentality

Despite the global trend of minority language decline, the north of Ireland is experiencing an Irish language revival. A 2015 ESRI study claims 45 per cent of us in the north have a positive attitude towards the Irish language, and that learners here are “driven by intrinsic motivation”.

The Irish-medium education sector has come some way from the humble beginnings of West Belfast’s Bunscoil Phobal Feirste, having opened in 1971 with 9 pupils as the north’s first school of its kind.

Today, there are 86 schools operating through an Irish medium, catering for a 5,000-strong bloc of students. This growing sector is accompanied by dozens of Irish language organisations as well as 184,898 northerners (10.7 per cent) according to the 2011 Census who claim at least some Irish-speaking ability, a 17,408 increase from 2001.

The 11th October marked 10 years since the onset of the 3-day intra-party talks with the British and Irish governments that eventually culminated in the 2006 St. Andrews Agreement. As part of this, the British government made a commitment to introduce an Irish Language Act.

Fast forward a decade, however, and the north remains without this very legislation. The British government was not so committed after all, but then we should know better than to rely on British government commitments. During the 9 years of the 3rd and 4th terms of the Assembly no movement was made on this issue.

The likelihood of any progress with the newly-elected 5th Assembly remains unconvincing, especially with a First Minister in Arlene Foster who thinks that we’re “squandering” money on Irish language schools.

SDLP MLA Patsy McGlone has tabled an Irish language bill, but it’s largely a symbolic move. 43 current MLAs support a public list of Irish language commitments and, on those numbers, the bill wouldn’t make the grade in the 108-member Assembly.

Even in the event of all Green, People Before Profit and Alliance MLAs aligning with nationalist parties, expect the not-so Democratic Unionist Party to pull out their legislative party trick, the ol’ Petition of Concern.

UUP leader Mike Nesbitt may have offered a slight olive branch on the Irish language in his party conference speech last year but his party isn’t the one with 38 MLA seats. As long as there exists an intransigent cohort of unionist politicians with a “curry my yogurt” mentality in the Assembly, it is difficult to see how Irish language rights will be enshrined in the short to medium-term.

Ultra-cautious to giving them’uns an inch in full view of the beady-eyed fleggers that elect them, political unionism appears to be no closer in coming to terms with an Irish Language Act.

I just look forward to the day when a unionist politician can embrace the Irish language without fear of turning into a leprechaun – I’ll drink a can of “coca coalyer” to that.

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5 comments

  1. I look forward to the day when the flat earth society’s opinion just won’t matter,which won’t be too long.

  2. I can only sigh at the fully entrenched, “Siegfried Line” mentality of the Unionist community. After 400 years there are still a majority who were born with a “White Settler” mentality, and will die with it. They are terrified of being “Swamped”, by those “Native Irish” who now outnumber them (again). It is a siege mentality. These are people who have a totally zero-sum game approach to life, and their “Survival” as an over-privileged over-class above the “Natives”. (Yes, a lot of them do think like that!). What is to be done?… Well, there is a great deal. The 180,000 in the North who speak at least some Irish, and the 45% of the Community that have a positive attitude to it, is a start. Irish there is not decreasing, it is increasing. at a rate of about 1% a year. But some comparisons: In the American Southwest, where the indigenous Indians are a substantial part of the community, there are more people speaking Navajo than there are Northern Irish speakers. Add in the Apache, Hopi, etc, and there is no great danger of the ethnic languages collapsing anytime soon. In spite of 400 years of near Genocide, minority cultures are flourishing. I wish it were so in the North. The facts of the matter are that the now majority ethnic identity there is seen as based on “Difference”, that embraces everything from Culture and language, to music, history, art, and athletics. So all these are highly symbolic. Yet the hullabaloo about “Ulster Scots”, by the now marginally minority Unionist community, shows very clearly how much they understand this. Apart from semi-fascist Orangism and ridiculous parades with worse uniforms and music, ethnic identity is about all they have left. So what they do have, will be defended like Stalingrad. Every little “Green” shoot that pops up must be ruthlessly stamped on. I think a lot of this is based on silent guilt.They do know, deep down, that their behaviour over the last 400 years has been disgusting,and is frowned upon by most of the UK mainland population, who mostly regard them as a bunch of head-bangers. Outside of the most rabid wing of the Tory party, and UKIP, the UK far right, etc, they have absolutely no friends. They really do have their backs to the wall. It’s the siege of Derry, all over again. in such a situation, it is easy for an ethnic community to become fearful, highly defensive, and paranoid.,…..also delusional. This is all about the mental state of several hundred thousand people. If it was an individual, they would be advised to seek medical treatment. Except that they change, which is not on the Agenda, for the white orange working class, now swept by the harsh winds of Globalisation. They now see there is no way out, that they are going eventually to get dumped by a weary mainland population, and that they are now on the losing side of history. I do not think there is an easy solution to this. Time, perhaps, will change things. In the meantime, learn Irish.

  3. It’s true Irish is on an upward curve in the north but in a lot of ways it can’t fail to be. Big money is being poured into it from all sides as a way to keep the taigs contented, sometimes to no real benefit for the language, locally and as a whole. The blatant bias and political manoeuvering as regards funding is setting up petty fiefdoms all over the North while the actual end-product is variable, to be charitable (see Foras na Gaeilge’s budget for example and the scandalous and obvious drift towards the north-east of this all-island body, while worthwhile and proven Irish networks in the south are failing due to lack of funding).
    I suppose my point can be summed up as ‘what happens when the taps run dry?’

    1. I think the available technology and the personal need for an “unusual” identity and clear individualism in a rapidly converging world of main-stream “clones” will continue to drive the train, public tap dry or not. It is already one of the paramount forces in our youth to learn the language. I hope it keeps going. I also hope it will drive the train for Gaelg, Gàidhlig, and other native languages still around to enrich our world.

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