‘Where do we draw the lines in equality?’
Pól Ó Muirí
What hope for the development of Irish in Northern Ireland? The Lurgan Mail reports on a meeting of Craigavon Borough Council in which a Sinn Féin councillor, Johnny McGibbon, has requested permission to let two Irish-language groups make a presentation to the council. Unionists members are objecting to the invitation on the basis that “the presentation would be a prelude to a request for Irish street signs to be erected”. (There are Irish-language street signs in a couple of areas of Lurgan, btw, which were erected by locals.) Mr McGibbon’s request has already been knocked back by one committee and he was trying his luck with a second one – which would suggest that Mr McGibbon knows the old Irish saying: “An té nach bhfuil láidir, ní mór dó bheith glic.”
One unionist councillor quoted on the issue is Alderman Stephen Moutray who is also a DUP MLA and whose party, apparently, came to some great détente with Sinn Féin in recent times. Mr Moutray said: “Where do we draw the lines in equality with such a diverse migrant population? Do we include languages like Portuguese, Polish, Lithuanian, Chinese or whatever? We’d need street signs the size of sandwich boards. It would be a total waste of ratepayers’ money.”
In fact, PSNI stations in Craigavon do have signs up in Polish and other eastern European languages – though nothing appears in Irish. I suspect that many ratepayers in the North – this one included – would quite like to see some signs in Irish and some public recognition for the language – and not for mere tokenism. The oddity of the situation is that Craigavon, like many rural councils, is very active in maintaining the old townland names – the vast, vast majority of which are recognisably Irish in origin. Could we not follow the suggestion of former Green leader, Trevor Sargent, and have the name in English, Irish and a translation of what the name actually means?
The dysfunctional nature of the Sinn Féin and DUP relationship is simply bizarre. Both parties can co-operate to arrange the new policing and justice ministry to exclude the SDLP; both can work together and set up a new committee of their own members to look at Orange marches and yet, on the language question, on a very basic, local level, they can’t even agree to let Irish speakers make a presentation to their own council?
What’s the Irish for ‘outrageous’?