[lg policy] Irony lost in Sinn Fein translation

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Mon Mar 15 13:33:26 UTC 2010

Irony lost in Sinn Fein translation
The party doesn't seem to know its Erse from its elbow on a range of
policies from the Irish language to coalition, says Conchubar O

Sunday March 14 2010

AT THE party's Ard Fheis last weekend, Sinn Fein redefined
"bilingualism" as the ability not to use both the Irish and English
languages, but as the tendency to speak out of both sides of the mouth
at once. Yes, of course, there was a lot of Irish spoken by party
leaders and delegates on the sections of the conference broadcast by
RTE. As an aside, conference is an inadequate translation of "ard
fheis", whose actual meaning is closer to a night of debauchery than
debate. Perhaps it was Sinn Fein's contribution to Seachtain na
Gaeilge, which reaches its climax on St Patrick's Day.

Or maybe it was further evidence of what I regard as the leadership of
Sinn Fein's real Irish language policy, which I term 'TUIL' or
'Tactical Use of Irish Language' in deference to the more well-known
'TUAS' or 'Tactical Use of Armed Struggle' policy initiated in the
late Eighties. Before the party president's speech at 8.30pm on
Saturday night, we had an introduction by Senator Pearse Doherty, a
native of the Donegal Gaeltacht, entirely as Gaeilge. His own cumann
meetings in Donegal were being convened in English, Raidio na
Gaeltachta reported last year. During Gerry Adams's own speech, he
switched between Irish and English on a number of occasions to varying
degrees of effectiveness.

Among the leaders of Irish political parties, Gaeilgeoiri regard Gerry
Adams as a genuine trier but feel that he could more usefully spend
time during his sojourns in Gort a' Choirce perfecting his Gaeilge so
that he doesn't trip up on the pronunciation of Irish words during
set-piece speeches, as he did frequently during his televised address.
At the same time, I have often thought it's bad form to criticise
Adams for his faulty Gaeilge, as there's no one who hasn't the odd --
or frequent -- lapse. Let he whose blas is without blemish cast the
first cloch!  The problem with Adams and Sinn Fein is that the party
likes to beat the drum about its "promotion of Irish language issues"
and has proclaimed that "An Ghaeilge" wouldn't have featured at all in
the recent talks at Hillsborough Castle were it not for their efforts.

In fact, the Irish language wasn't even mentioned in the final
document produced by the two governments, the DUP and Sinn Fein. In
the previous "historic" agreements, there were specific commitments to
the Irish language.

The St Andrew's Agreement committed the British government to the
introduction of an Irish Language Act, but this was promptly dropped
by the DUP Culture Minister once the Executive took office. Though
Sinn Fein ministers sit around the table with their DUP colleagues,
they were unable -- or unwilling -- to get that commitment delivered.

It suits Sinn Fein leaders to allow the DUP to publicly denigrate the
Irish language -- as they feel it enrages young Irish speakers and
herds them into the ranks of the party as voters and activists.

When the Hillsborough Agreement was published, the absence of any word
on the delivery of promises on Irish contained in previous agreements
was greeted with dismay by Gaeilgeoiri.

It took a pointed question from this journalist published on Gerry
Adams' own blog, leargas (known by bloggers as "teargas"), to prompt
the Sinn Fein leader to give details of a £20m package for An Ghaeilge
which was subsequently confirmed by the Northern Ireland Office. In
his lengthy reply, Mr Adams stoutly defended his party's record on An

As far as I'm concerned, Sinn Fein's record on this issue is one of
"all gong and no dinner". Substantial as the sum may seem, it is small
change in the grand scheme of things. The £20m will be paid over a
number of years and is dwarfed by stimulus packages in other areas.

Questioning Sinn Fein on its delivery on Irish language commitments
gets under the skin of the party in a way which can't be matched by
questions on other matters. After all, this is the "most Irish" of all
the parties. Sinn Fein was around for the Easter Rising -- and,
interestingly enough, the Proclamation was in English only.

Sinn Fein loudly proclaims it's the only party actively seeking a
United Ireland -- but finds it hard to counter the argument that the
conflict in which it played such an active part over 30 years has
postponed perhaps permanently "that certain day" of Irish unity.

The bilingualism of Sinn Fein reached a new high during the Ard Fheis.
Successive party activists came to the podium to denounce the Fianna
Fail/Green coalition as "less a Government than an affliction" and
Fine Gael as the "Tweedle Dee" alternative to the FF/Green "Tweedle
Dum". As if we haven't heard that one before.

Yet the Ard Fheis opened with a resounding endorsement of an Ard
Chomhairle (the most powerful cupla focail in the party) amendment
recommending the party remain open to the possibility of coalition
rather than ruling it out entirely as proposed in a motion by the
remainder of the party's radical left wing.

As the party's possible leader in waiting, Toireasa Ferris, memorably
said in an RTE radio interview, politicians often say one thing and do
another. Irony is lost on her and her colleagues, it seems.

Whatever Sinn Fein can be credited with, it will not be trumpeting its
redefinition of bilingualism. But would-be voters would be advised to
seek translation of the party's political pledges and policies into
the language of plain speaking and doing what it says it will do.

Sunday Independent

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