Welsh in the European Parliament

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Thu Jun 5 15:00:41 UTC 2008

Welsh in the European Parliament

The Irish News carries a report today that the British government to
allow the use of Welsh on a "limited" basis in the European
parliament. The Welsh Assembly wants Welsh to be an official and
working language for the EU with the Welsh Assembly paying the bills.
Plaid Cymru speaker Jill Evans is mounting a campaign for official
recognition. The British government, however, do not support that aim:
"These proposals are still under discussion and no arrangements have
yet been agreed."

Having been in Cardiff very recently for the first time, I was very
impressed – and not a little surprised – by how comprehensively the
city was blanketed with bilingual road and commercial signs. It would
have reminded you more of Dublin than many parts of the North. Today's
story highlights one of the difficulties that the DUP face in their
attempts to deal with language issues. The UK is not simply an
English-speaking region and speakers of indigenous languages Welsh and
Scots Gaelic – which predate the formation of the UK – are, bit by
bit, redrawing the cultural map of these islands.

The DUP have attempted – not unsuccessfully it must be said – to
fetter the fortunes of Irish by linking it to their fictional version
of 'Ulster-Scots'. Any movement towards promoting Irish is countered
by them with one to promote Ulster-Scots. That Irish suffers in the
comparison is, of course, the whole point. The DUP's approach to Irish
has been quite legalistic. They did – as was pointed out here before –
appoint two members to Foras na Gaeilge, the Irish-language board of
the cross-Border language body. They have done little else positive
since – though I would not be surprised if they throw the language
lobby a bone in the form of some badly needed funding for the
Irish-language broadcasting fund in Belfast. Such money would be the
least painful option for them of supporting the language and might
help defuse some of the posturing that is on-going in Stormont at the

Promoting Irish in the North is a challenge that is set to get even
more difficult in the coming years. Many unionists may be hostile or
indifferent to the language but, as time goes on, many nationalists
will become as equally indifferent. "Nice to have but you don't need
it," is not an uncommon refrain amongst some Northern nationalists.
The challenge for Irish speakers is to provide leadership to non-Irish
speakers of whatever denomination and to all the political parties on
what the language really needs. There is no sense in Irish speakers
aping the language policy of the Irish Free State circa 1923 just as
there is no sense in the DUP aping the language policy of Stormont in
that same year.


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