[lg policy] Why we backed an Irish language officer for Belfast

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at gmail.com
Fri May 5 11:19:20 EDT 2017

Alliance councillor: Why we backed an Irish language officer for Belfast At
Belfast City Hall, above, Stormont and Westminster, Alliance makes
decisions with the best interests of the community At Belfast City Hall,
above, Stormont and Westminster, Alliance makes decisions with the best
interests of the community Michael Long Email The Morning View (Irish
language vote in Belfast is a clue as to what awaits NI, May 3) attempted
to use a vote on the Irish language in Belfast to suggest Alliance holding
the balance of power at City Hall could only be negative. It is hard to
understand how decisions based on facts and evidence rather than the tried
and tested ‘them and us’ politics could be seen as anything but positive.
And this is how Alliance operates – at City Hall, at the Assembly and at
Westminster we make decisions with the best interests of the whole
community in sight. So, two months ago, when the DUP and PUP expressed
concerns about the need to incentivise groups to join the Council Bonfire
scheme, which costs ratepayers substantially more than the new language
policy, we were happy to back them. Likewise, on Tuesday night we backed a
public consultation on a language diversity policy –not an Irish language
policy, but a scheme set to celebrate the range of languages and dialects
heard across the city. When it came to the issue of a language officer, we
again looked at the facts and followed the evidence – a trail which led us
to support an Irish language officer, a decision which has since been the
target of attacks from Unionist Councillors. But our decision was
threefold; only the Irish language sector asked for an officer based on the
high number of local Irish speakers; The cost will be less to ratepayers as
Foras na Gaeilge will foot half the bill for the post; and it was Sinn Fein
who backed Alliance, altering their proposal to reflect our calls for
providing additional resources for all language sectors if the need was
there. Unfortunately Unionist Councillors cannot move forward. Instead they
continue their decade-old narrative, complaining that Republicans use the
language as a weapon. Yet instead of embracing Irish and disarming them,
they aid the process by responding in ways that only serve to further
sectarianise the debate. Over the course of this year it’s become clear
this outdated view is not held by people on the ground. People like East
Belfast loyalist Linda Ervine who put forward the argument against a single
language officer by likening it to ‘expecting the home economics teacher to
teach Science and history’, to incoming Presbyterian Moderator, Rev Noble
McNeely warning against attempts to fit languages into sectarian boxes.
Certainly, some republicans have tried to create a narrative WHERE THEY
claim ownership of the language; however, my response to the likes of Gerry
Adams at election speeches in the Nineties, was not to run away, but
challenge the narrative by going to my local night class and learning
Irish. Maybe that is because I am confident and comfortable with my
multi-faceted identity. Alliance prefers to stick to the facts of a shared
history and in recognising that the Irish language is for all we don’t
regard supporting its promotion as a sectarian matter. That is what this
policy is all about achieving and we believe that it can make a new chapter
in creating a shared appreciation of languages. The policy is a good start
and as the Irish phrase- tύs maith leath na hoibre- that is half the
battle. Michael Long, Alliance councillor, Belfast

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