[lg policy] Government opposed bilingualism, despite giving more support for Irish

Harold Schiffman haroldfs at gmail.com
Fri Jan 5 10:53:09 EST 2018

 Government opposed bilingualism, despite giving more support for Irish [image:
Sir Patrick Mayhew, centre, pictured here in Carrickfergus, was told that
the Irish language was a symbolic issue for nationalists] Sir Patrick
Mayhew, centre, pictured here in Carrickfergus, was told that the Irish
language was a symbolic issue for nationalists
Sam McBride <https://www.newsletter.co.uk/author/sam.mcbride1>
Email <sam.mcbride at jpress.co.uk>
Published: 07:02 Friday 05 January 2018

   - <?subject=Government opposed bilingualism, despite giving more support

The government’s commitment to increase support for the Irish language but
determination not to pursue a policy of bilingualism are set out in
recently declassified files from the early 1990s.

At that point, a major review of government policy on the Irish language
had been instigated in response to the looming European Charter on Regional
or Minority Languages.

The government believed that not being seen to support the Irish language
would not only alienate moderate nationalists who saw it as symbolic of
accepting their Irish identity, but of bolstering support for Sinn Féin and
the IRA, an analysis shared by the Irish Government.

Almost three decades later, the Irish language is the most explicit issue
which appears to be preventing Sinn Féin from restoring devolution by
re-entering power-sharing with the DUP.

NIO junior minister Jeremy Hanley wrote in an August 1992 memo to the
Secretary of State, Sir Patrick Mayhew: “Inconclusive as the legal
arguments may be, political considerations drive us to recognise Irish as a
regional minority language...to do otherwise, or indeed to adopt anything
less than a liberal stance towards the language as a whole, risks putting
it (and the whole issue of mutual cultural respect) back on the political
agenda unhelpfully both within Northern Ireland and in our dealings with
the public.”

The document went on to highlight two difficulties - the Administration of
Justice (Language) Act 1737 (which prohibits court cases being heard in any
language other than English) and the Public Health and Local Government
Miscellaneous Provisions Act (NI) 1949, which related to street names and
was repealed in 1995.

“As to the courts, the Lord Chancellor’s letter of 25 June to the Lord
Privy Seal expressed concerns at Irish speakers having rights [underlined]
to use Irish in courts here.

“His officials do not however object to ratification even if this means
amendment of the 1737 act in a way which might for example still leave
discretion in the hands of the judiciary whether to allow spoken evidence
in Irish translated by an interpreter. (There is no question of bilingual
court proceedings.)”

He went on: “The major justification for tackling these barriers to a more
liberal approach lies in political arguments. We are wholly committed,
especially in the Talks, to ‘the development of a society in which both
main traditions would be respected’ - and removing barriers to Irish is a
litmus test of our intent...a positive approach will also remove this as a
salient political issue, enable us to respond positively to criticism from
the Irish and internationally and help undermine Sinn Féin/PIRA’s
exploitation of the language issue, not least by providing moderate
nationalist politicians with a chance to pursue, through constitutional
channels, an appropriate recognition of the identity of particular areas.

“But ratification of the draft charter is a long way from bilingualism
which would not be justified.”

Although the Tory minister said that unionist reaction to the proposals
would be difficult to predict, “my judgement, and that of officials, is
that unionists (some of whom are Irish language activists) will accept the
removal of barriers, though perhaps with bad grace”.


 Harold F. Schiffman

Professor Emeritus of
 Dravidian Linguistics and Culture
Dept. of South Asia Studies
University of Pennsylvania
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6305

Phone:  (215) 898-7475
Fax:  (215) 573-2138

Email:  haroldfs at gmail.com

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