Belfast City Hall hosts Gaeilgeoiri


THERE was a moment in Belfast City Hall on Friday that seemed straight out of a promotional video from the Northern Ireland Community Relations Council.

The deputy Lord Mayor, Dr Alasdair McDonnell of the SDLP, was warmly applauded by language activists from the Falls Road, Connemara and Dublin when he said Irish must become "a powerful force for reconciliation" in the North.

A civic reception for Conradh na Gaeilge in the former bastion of unionism was historic enough. But the enthusiastic support for his plea, to the Gaeilgeoiri to "loosen up took the SDLP councillor by surprise, judging by his expression.

No one disagreed when he said the Irish "tent" must be big enough to accommodate the descendants of Gaelic speaking planters, or those simply curious about the language. As a man from the ancient kingdom of Dal Riada I would strongly urge you to strengthen the ties with Scots Gaelic," he said.

But beneath all the enthusiasm there was little sign of a genuine willingness to reach out. Conradh's president, Mr Gearoid O Caireallain, had two messages and he delivered them in two languages.

In English he sounded like John Hume's sweet reasonableness. In Irish he was uncompromising. Those who said the language movement excluded people were all wrong, he said.

It was "we" who were excluded we who were refused permission to enter City Hall "we" who were discriminated against. The hall was built to tell people like "us" that Belfast belonged to another tribe, but now it belonged to me and you. "Is liomsa an teach seo."

The ardfheis was more remarkable for what didn't happen. There was no debate on the peace process or the steps the movement could take to reach out. There was no invitation to the women on the Shankill who are learning Irish. And there was no time to launch Roger Blaney's book, Presbyterians and the Irish language.

The book is written in English, and some felt it was "inappropriate" to launch a book in that foreign tongue at a Conradh ardfheis.